My short visit to Sydney, funded by the Bath International Research Funding Schemes, to build collaborative links with colleagues in the Work and Organisation group at the historic university here, has coincided with the arrival of springtime weather after an unseasonal cold spell.
In national politics too it has been a time of sudden renewal, following the leadership coup within the Liberal Party which saw Malcolm Turnbull replace Tony Abbott not just as party leader but Prime Minister. The sixth federal Premier in eight years, Mr Turnbull is currently enjoying a surge of popularity and public optimism, although the honeymoon period will soon be tested by new signs of economic slowdown, which overshadow the upcoming policy summit scheduled to tackle hard fiscal choices and employment relations reform.
An important part of Mr Turnbull’s fresh start has been the focus on women in government, with the reshuffle increasing female representation by 150%. The first key policy initiative of the new government was the announcement of a $100 million programme to raise awareness and strengthen hospital support services in an attempt to reduce domestic violence. Violence against women and children has been the focus of public debates over the last couple of weeks due to a series of horrific and tragic cases, which appear to have doubled in number over the last year. Campaign groups, whilst welcoming the symbolic importance given to the issue by the government initiative and the public debate it has sparked, have also pointed out that sweeping cuts to front-line legal and support services over the last few years still need to be reversed, leaving women and children vulnerable.
At a ‘Sydney Ideas’ talk I attended on the 29 September (in a packed-out 550-capacity Great Hall on campus), former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick spoke of her term of office over the last eight years as a time of transition, with some gains made in promoting gender equality but a lot of ground still to cover. Australia and the UK share roughly similar rankings in gender equality indices (Australia was ranked 24th in the 2014 World Economic Forum report, with the UK close behind in 26th place): Australia does slightly better on the aggregate gender pay gap, whilst the UK has a slightly higher proportion of women in parliament, and both countries have similar numbers of female CEOs and senior managers. Glass ceilings may have been chipped but remain firmly in place.
There is currently interest here in the idea of ‘daddy quotas’ or ‘use-it-or-lose it’ blocks of parental leave dedicated to fathers, to promote more equal childcaring responsibilities. To my eyes, two related areas of innovation stand out and both are of interest to British policy debates. The first is the rapid progress made in establishing reporting procedures for companies on gender pay statistics and flexible and family-friendly work practices, which in my view holds important lessons for British policy-makers as they examine the results of the consultation process held this summer on pay reporting. Together with colleagues at the University of Sydney I hope to be able to investigate the impact of this reporting process, drawing also on the experience of other countries such as the Nordic states.
The second is the Male Champions of Change network which Commissioner Broderick helped to bring together in 2010 (and of which University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence is a member), to try to translate reporting into transformative action within organisations across the country. Andrew Penn, CEO of Telstra since May of this year, recently posted a blog arguing for a radical programme of incremental small steps towards gender equality, starting for example with flexible working practices, and (as Commissioner Broderick argued last night) listening to women’s experiences across the organisation.
I have been inspired by these calls to action and to reflection on how research can support and promote processes of social change. My visit has been all too brief but I will take away with me some strong collaborative ties, thoughts on how to take my research forward, and musings on how research and policy can work together for the common good.