Superannuation funds should consider new legislation monitoring gender equity in large businesses beyond their own employment practices, said Cate Wood, chair of Women in Super.

The now effective Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 legislates that businesses with 100 or more employees are required to report against various gender equity indicators, including gender composition of the workforce, classification of jobs held and working arrangements.

Wood argued superannuation funds should be considering reporting outcomes when outsourcing work to external providers, such as investment managers, administrators and insurers.

“You have the whole aspect of superannuation funds and, through their investment managers, investing in companies. And I think these reports can be part of the examination of company performance from an ESG [environmental, social and governance] perspective.”

Wood believes allowing data to be aggregated across and within industries will be progressive, and with much of the standardised reporting being publicly available, performance will be more transparent.

“I think it’s a great tool for employers to be able to look at themselves and compare themselves across their industry and across the labour market generally.”

 Female-friendly employment?

Wood pointed to “blockages” in relation to pay equity issues and promotion for women, who she said are not represented throughout all areas of business. In terms of super space, she said it’s not particularly female-friendly.

“It is an industry which, in the past, has been demonstrated to have quite inequitable salary outcomes for females. And some of that can relate to the areas where you’re more likely to find men employed, that is, a lot of the investment areas, which pay higher salaries.

“And women are more likely to be employed in other executive areas, so you can have people who are on similar hierarchical executive-type levels but with different pay outcomes, and indeed the industry has been shown in the past to have unequal outcomes when people are in pretty similar jobs.”

Wood said there’s been a lot of concentration on boardlevel gender representation, but argued, “Clearly we’re not getting there yet”.

“There hasn’t been startling improvement. However, I really welcome these reporting requirements because they will put a real focus on employment levels and what’s actually happening for those who are employers. And I think there’s a real need to get to grips with what is happening, particularly in executive employment, as a real key to things changing.”

To address the super industry’s role in gender equity, Women in Super is hosting a national roadshow featuring Helen Conway, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

“Super funds have a powerful ability to factor sustainability principles into investment decision making and our research with investors suggests they’re willing to influence the debate at the board and CEO levels,” Conway told Investment Magazine.

“Investors, analysts and superfunds recognise gender diversity is a barometer of managerial capability, but they need more guidance on how they can evaluate an organisation’s gender diversity performance.”

See dates and further information on the 2013 Women in Super Road Show. 

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