Eliza’s Project: Gender inclusion in the co-op sector in Australia

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November 2017

By Allison Orr

Executive Summary

Women make up 46 per cent of the Australian workforce, but in every industry and sector, women are under-represented in leadership positions. This is true for the corporate sector as well as the co-operative and mutual sector.

As well as being under-represented in the top jobs, women are over-represented in lower paid occupations and lower grades of all industries. Vertical and horizontal segregation push women into lower paid occupations. These patterns arise from more than just choices at the individual level; they are the result of structural factors and social norms. Women continue to do the majority of unpaid care work, which drives women into flexible, casual or part-time work, restricting the roles available to them and curtailing their opportunities for advancement. This in turn, deprives organisations of talented staff and decreases diversity at the executive and board levels.

For the co-operative and mutuals sector, there is more than just a business case for inclusion and equality. Cooperative and mutual enterprises (CMEs) are controlled by members and are guided by values and principles that promote inclusion. From their earliest days, CMEs have empowered ordinary people with the means to control their own financial futures and to have a stake in their own enterprises. These are organisations already imbued with the characteristics that can make this sector a leader on inclusion and the empowerment of women.

This research has looked at the current position of gender inclusion in the sector, and via a survey and symposium, asked members of the sector what they want to improve this situation.

While there is no single solution to addressing the under-representation of women in leadership in CMEs, several patterns emerged. People want access to flexible work, not just as a “tick the box” policy, but as a workplace practice that is embedded in the culture and has full support of the leadership. People want access to leadership training and sponsorship. There is a clear pattern of women getting “stuck” in middle management, and what is needed are initiatives to help women move beyond this point, and that, once again, these are supported by the leadership. A commitment to change starts at the top, with boards and executive teams. This report is a starting point for the CME sector in Australia. It provides the sector with a picture of the status quo and puts forward recommendations that will put the sector in a leadership position on gender inclusion in Australia.

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