Yesterday I went to the PSA Women’s Conference. Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, gave a presentation and in it she referred to the work of Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and in particular, her use of the term ‘Gender Asbestos’.
Gender Asbestos refers to the attitudes hidden and embedded in the walls, cultures and mindsets of organisations.
Discrimination in the workplace is no longer a highly visible phenomenon. We no longer have confrontational discriminatory conditions where women are required to resign when they are married, or where a woman working the same job as a man is paid considerably less.
Because of this, discrimination is perhaps harder to tackle now, as it is endemic, and far less visible.
For example, there is still a huge gender pay gap – women earn 84c to every $1 earned by men and this gap is increasing, legislation theoretically achieved equal pay for equal work for women in 1969). Women are retiring with approximately half the super of men and over a lifetime women are earning approximately $1 million less than men on average. The factors contributing to these things is gender asbestos at work.
I really like Avivah Wittenberg -Cox’s work from the little I have delved into it to date. She advocates an approach where we stop the exclusive focus on trying to ‘fix’ women with mentoring, and helping them to break down men’s clubs, and focus on the companies, organisations and government departments with such low representation instead.
In the words of Wittenberg-Cox – we need to stop asking “What’s wrong with women that they’re not making it to the top?” and start asking “What’s wrong with companies if they can’t retain and promote the majority of educated Americans, and can’t adequately satisfy the majority of US consumers?” Let’s change organisational cultures!
Wittenberg-Cox writes that in the 20th century those companies that wanted to get ahead had to come to terms with globalisation. For the 21st century, those that want to get ahead will need to focus on the “web, weather and women” (technology, climate change and better representation and addressing the needs of women in the workplace and as clients/consumers).
Technically savvy, environmentally conscious companies who are getting their act together to make a more equitable society?
Bring it on!