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Review of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace

Key barriers to EOWW

Key barriers to equal opportunity for women included: cultural expectations, dual workload of work and family responsibilities, the measurement of merit (e.g. masculine styles more likely to be measures and valued, a medical example sees more patients equated to greater efficiency), lack of outcome information, lack of flexibility, lack of high quality flexible positions, particular difficulties working in male-dominated industries, problems returning work, lack of pay equality, lack of senior women as role models, family and occupational violence. Organisational barriers discussed were the recruitment of women into organisations and the lack of women in management or supervisory roles.

What works to achieve EOWW

Good training programs were recognised as key by the group with middle managers identified as particularly important in facilitating change. EO principals should be embedded in management training and HR management. Leadership training was viewed by the group as helpful at multiple levels; for junior staff to acquire basic leadership and negotiation skills in a safe environment, for middle managers to understand indirect discrimination and biases and their responsibility as managers to equal opportunity, and for senior management.

Mentoring and shadowing program were important facilitators for women. Successful mentoring included through informal networks (friends and professional organisations), formal networking programs and targeted mentoring.

Senior women may have poor visibility to more junior staff because of small numbers, strategies to increase women’s participation and visibility in management include setting targets and quotas for participation. For example executive membership for an organisation may aim for a 50% representation target over 3 years; if this target is not met a quota system may be imposed internally by senior management or externally by government. In medicine, organisations like the World Organisation of National Colleges and Academies of Family Medicine (Wonca) have introduced these measures into the executive and at conferences and other professional development activities to ensure women’s contributions in family medicine are recognised and clearly visible. National family medicine organisations are being encouraged by Wonca to take a similar position.

The role of the EOWW Act and the implications for change

The overall consensus of the meeting was to retain and extend the act to include medium and small business, particularly as women’s position in Australia is losing ground. It was felt that workplace programs needed revision and data collection needed be more complex including action and outcomes, pay and benefits. Roles for EOWW included support and assistance, mentoring, training and community awareness, consultation and the provision of tools.

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