‘Generational laggards’ called out on gender inequality

business, women, womanNational Retailers Association (NRA) CEO Dominique Lamb has warned that retailers must not rest on their laurels over progress in addressing gender inequalities, calling on industry leaders to “set an example” for less diverse sectors of the economy.

The industry body chief said there’s been a strong push for more diversity in the retail sector over the last twelve months, but that “real action” was still required to address the under-representation of women in leadership positions.

“Female representation has always been most concentrated in customer service roles, but then becomes increasingly sparse with every rung up the management ladder,” Lamb said.

“There has been a strong push for more diversity across the board and we are seeing a focus shift.

“This is heartening but we need to see real action and a move towards workplaces that allow female leaders to progress by embracing everything they have to offer and cultivating them throughout their careers,” she continued.

With March 8 marking International Women’s Day, the numbers show that all is still far from equal in the private sector.

The government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)’s data on women in leadership released in February shows that women hold just 13.7 per cent of chair positions, 24.9 per cent of directorships and only 16.5 per cent of chief executive roles in private-sector companies with 100 or more employees.

In the ASX-200, only 26.2 per cent of directors are women as of January, while women were only 25 per cent of new appointments to ASX 200 boards in January.

But WGEA’s latest report found that more Australian employers than ever are taking pay equity seriously, which Lamb said was encouraging.

“As one of the most gendered industries, we have a duty to set an example for others to follow, and collectively implement industry-wide initiatives to achieve true gender balance in the upper echelons of the domestic retail sector,” she said.

“Toxic bro culture”

Echoing Lamb’s sentiment, Vinomofo co-founder Andre Eikmeier has called on stakeholders in the wine industry to ride the wave of the #metoo movement and urgently address the under-representation of women in the sector, alongside “toxic and juvenile” bro culture in start-up circles.

Speaking to Inside Retail on the eve of International Women’s Day today, Eikmeier said that there are series of striking inequities in the wine and start-up communities related to the representation of women and how they are treated in the workplace.

“This is obviously a fucking problem and we have to address it,” he said.

Referencing the global push against sexual harassment that’s emerged in the wake of allegations against high profile individuals in the entertainment industry in recent months, Eikmeier said some men had to be made into examples to change what’s considered acceptable.

“This movement we’re in the middle of is really powerful and needed…it’s really dangerous for someone like me to say it’s not a problem, every time you think those barriers aren’t there you see Uber and a whole bunch of others and realise it doesn’t take much before you suddenly have a toxic bro culture.”

Vinomofo has today launched a wine case filled with wines made exclusively by female leaders within the industry to promote female entrepreneurship in the community and will add a permanent search tag to its site to enable customers to search for drinks made by women.

The business hopes to set an example for some of the generational laggards in the wine industry that Eikmeier believes aren’t embracing change quick enough.

“The [older] generation is still pretty prevalent in the wine industry…it’s a bit like casual racism, it’s a prevailing attitude – shit needs to change,” he said.

“I don’t expect them to change their views overnight, but I do expect them to consider that they’re no longer of this day or era…either shut the fuck up if you can’t understand, or really change yourself and your opinions.”

Eikmeier said that ultimately change should be driven by women in the industry, but that men had an important role to play in facilitating change.

“We’re the ones that can really clear the barriers and my job is to do whatever I can,” he said.

Gender quotas the way forward?

Whether employers should implement gender quotas to address the under-representation of women in leadership remains a hotly contested topic in the retail industry.

Last week former Myer CEO Bernie Brookes, a long-time advocate for gender equity in business, told a panel at Inside Retail Live that quotas represented reverse discrimination and we’re ultimately misguided.

“Reverse discrimination has two distinct disadvantages, it doesn’t help productivity…you’re getting a person who isn’t qualified to do the job,” he said.

Instead, Brookes said boards should be taken to task over their failings.

“What has to be done is everyone has to report on improvements to the pay gap and representation, and they have to be accountable to it,” Brookes said.

But Lamb pointed out that women have been sculpted in a way that’s not conducive to climbing the corporate ladder, and that this barrier had to be addressed.

“It’s endemic in women, we’ve been unfortunately environmentally sculpted not to lean in and be promoters,” she said.

“We want to basically have a system that embraces women for exactly who they are because of what they bring to a business.”

Vinomofo has not used quotas to promote diversity in its own business, but Eikmeier advocated the practice as a way to break through barriers in the workplace.

“Quotas are important, I know it seems like it isn’t merit based and, in a way, can seem a bit disempowering to women as well – but you just have to even the representation,” he said.

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