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Anna McPhee - Director, Equal Opportunities for Women in the Workplace Agency

Anna McPhee
'I have had great experiences in the workplace and have had the opportunity to work with wonderful people. I currently work with a great team of dedicated individuals who are committed to advancing the opportunities of women in the workplace.'

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) is slowly but surely changing the way women are treated in the workplace. Their latest report, Generation F, shows that while more women are working than ever before, the conditions and challenges they face at work are worlds apart from those of their male counterparts. Anna McPhee, the Agency’s director is working with employers to address this inequality. She talks to Career FAQs about Australian women, her working life and why feminism isn’t dead.

What does the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency do?

EOWA is a government statutory agency and we’re tasked with the job of working with medium to large employers with employees of 100 or more to help them put in place a program for women to remove workplace barriers.

What does your job involve?

I’m a director, so I lead the Agency in running the program. I’m an advocate for the issues of women in the media and public domain. I also work directly with employers.

What qualifications do you have?

I have a Master's of Business Administration, a Bachelor of Arts and also Australian Institute of Company Directors qualifications.

What did you do before you worked for EOWA?

I worked for an organisation called Australian Business Limited, now known as the Australian Business Chamber. They’re an employer organisation and I worked in public affairs and government relations.

What does feminism mean to you?

Feminism means equality for women and I think it is still important. EOWA’s latest research, Generation F, shows that women are still disadvantaged in the workplace. It’s no longer just women saying this, our research shows that men also believe that women are not supported or promoted in the workplace, and have to work harder to advance in business.

People seem to assume that we live in a post-feminist world, with women constituting 45 per cent of Australia’s labour force. However, EOWA’s Generation F study has found that equality in the workplace is yet to be achieved. Why do you think this is?

It’s a complex issue. Yes, women have the greatest participation in the workforce than we’ve had in history, but our research shows that many more women want to work or want to work more hours. We do have nearly equal representation of the genders, but when you look at the distribution of women and men across the workplace, you can see that still there are barriers preventing women from advancing in equal numbers through business. Those barriers still exist for a whole range of reasons. Assumptions about women and their careers, bias against women, a lack of education and training opportunities, and a lack of support and mentoring all have an effect on the issue.

Why do you think domestic duties are still overwhelmingly viewed as ‘women’s work’?

That’s a cultural issue, certainly in Australia. If you look at division of labour studies in Australia compared to other countries in the world, Australian women spend more hours in unpaid caring and domestic work than women in the United States or the United Kingdom. This a cultural and historical practice in Australia.

You found that one in ten women leave their job as a result of bullying and harassment. Who is responsible for changing the culture of acceptance of this kind of behaviour?

The leadership in the organisation is responsible to set standards and practices and not to reward people who bully and harass. Violence against women, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional bullying, is unfortunately deep seated in our community.

I think we have a responsibility as individuals to ensure that women feel safe in the workplace as well as in their homes. As peers, as managers, as employers, we have a responsibility to ensure that there’s a culture of inclusion and safety in the workplace.

Should childcare be the responsibility of employers or governments?

I think the responsibility of childcare is a shared concern. If we do want greater workforce participation of women, we need childcare solutions as women are the primary carers of children and the aged and disabled. Employers can play an important role in either directly providing childcare, access to information, or providing flexible work practices that enable carers to manage both work and family priorities. The government needs to set policies and establish childcare that is appropriate to the community, and families themselves need to make decisions about how they seek to care for their family responsibilities.

Do you think the EOWA statistics are indicative of women’s lives outside the workplace too?

I think the workplace is indicative of women’s status overall. Primarily, women are segregated into low-paying, low-status work. You’ll find women in paid caring roles, in the health sector, in education, in administration – these are low-paying, low status jobs, and considered ‘women’s work’.

The instance of harassment in the workplace is certainly an extension of the violence and lack of respect for women in the broad community.

What attributes make a company an equal opportunity employer?

We set some key criteria that an organisation must meet before they can apply for the EOWA Employer of Choice for Women citation. The citation itself doesn’t say that these organisations are perfect, but what it says is that they are taking a proactive approach to advance women in business.

There is a whole range of criteria, including that the employers must have a champion at the most senior level to address issues of diversity and advancement of women in the workplace. The organisation must have have paid maternity leave of six weeks or more after 12 months service. They must have the opportunity for part-time work at all levels, including management level, have a paid equity gap less than the industry average. They must also have representation of women in management greater than the industry average.

Why is allowing flexibility for employees good business for an employer?

The research in Generation F shows that flexibility is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. All employees – regardless of family status, life stage, position in an organisation, status or salary – seek flexibility to balance work and other priorities and passions. Individuals in the research indicated that they were moving away from a work focus and wanting a greater balance.

How do people locate an equal opportunity employer?

They can visit our website. All companies which are accredited with the 2008 Employer of Choice for Women are listed on our website. Also if you’re looking for work, you’ll see lots of employers using the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace brand in their recruitment advertising.

What have your experiences been like in the workplace?

I have had great experiences in the workplace and have had the opportunity to work with wonderful people. I currently work with a great team of dedicated individuals who are committed to advancing the opportunities of women in the workplace.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is the variety and the opportunity it gives me to create change and a better workplace for women.

What are your hopes for the future of women in the workplace?

We have a goal here at EOWA to increase women’s workforce participation, to provide greater quality part-time work and to see more women in leadership positions in business.

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