Saturday, May 25, 2024

Equality and diversity fatigue

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Last month at the GRDC Crop Update I put my name down to attend the GIWA breakfast expecting to hear all about how growers’ 1 per cent of farm gate returns is being spent on grains R&D, only to find that I had signed up for the Ag Sector Diversity and Inclusivity Breakfast.

I should have known something was not right, as the room was filled mainly with anglo professional looking women, for some reason not too many male farmers or agros had signed up to attend.

Now, don’t think I’m not into equality and diversity; I’m a big supporter of equality of opportunity with the goal of the best person getting the job, and I’m an even bigger supporter of diversity of opinion, as groupthink or lack of thinking is the beginning of the end for most organisations or even whole countries.

What I’m not a supporter of is the lunacy of the argument put forth by the federal government’s Workplace Gender Equity Agency (WGEA), which repeatedly makes the claim that women across Australia are paid 19 per cent less than men.

What’s Mark Twain’s famous saying? “There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Well, the WGEA makes a profession of using statistics to back up the lie that women are paid less than men in Australia to do the same job. Putting aside the fact that it’s been illegal for more than 50 years to pay men and women different amounts for the same work, this has not stopped a taxpayer-funded agency – which just happens to have 30 female employees out of a total staff of 32 – from claiming that pay discrimination is rife across Australian workplaces.

Unfortunately, this twisting of stats is picked up by a gullible media and is propagated by the growing number of left wing academics who inhabit the Women’s Study faculties of our universities, along with the horde of diversity and inclusivity officers that now haunt the HR sections of government departments and large corporations.

Invariably, the senior leadership at the big end of town goes weak at the knees when confronted with the claim of income inequity and they nod along promising to do more rather than push back and point out the obvious that their organisations comply with the law and any difference in income between male and female staff is simply because men and women tend to follow different career paths.

You don’t have to have a math degree to work out that comparing the total payroll of an organisations male and female staff reveals that, over their lifetime, men often earn more than women, because women take critical years out to bring up families.

But back to the breakfast, which I noted was served by an all-female service team, which was not a good look for a diversity event. The keynote speaker, an academic, gave us a lecture on unconscious bias, how we all need to challenge ourselves to ensure we address the pay and opportunity gap by opening the door for more women to climb the ladder.

No attempt was made to explore the complexity of people’s careers and how men and women invest their time differently, either into skills development, career climbing or family support, depending on their personal preferences.

When talking about unconscious bias, one has to also consider deliberate bias. What about the obvious bias that now exists out there, particularly in government departments where there is a strong push to promote women over men to achieve the magical 50:50 equity management target that has become the new rule for government boards, committees and senior management?

What worries me is we have now reached a situation where reverse discrimination is alive and well across government where it is now common for affirmative action to be the unwritten rule to promote women over men to square the ledger.

I have no evidence as, for obvious reasons, no one is collecting the data, but anecdotally I have been hearing about middle and upper level male managers in government departments being repeatedly overlooked when it comes to promotion.

It could simply be sour grapes from the less worthy, but there is one bit of evidence out there that supports my suspicions.

A recently released publication called the WA Gender Equity Report Card lists the share of women across the Senior Executive Service of the WA Public Service.

In it, it proudly states that there has been rise in the percentage of women at senior levels from 34.2 per cent in 2017 to 43.5 per cent in 2021, with Tier 1 managers seeing the largest increase in women’s representation from 22.2 per cent to 38.7 per cent, Tier 2 going up from  39.4 per cent to 47.5 per cent, and Tier 3 from 44.5 per cent to 51.1 per cent.

This is all great stuff when it comes to closing the gender gap and no doubt there are a lot of smart women who quite deservingly have climbed the ladder fast in that time.

But something does not add up, unless there are suddenly a lot of men in the public service staying home looking after kids, opening the way for the executive women to power up at warp speed.

More likely is there is conscious bias to promote women into management jobs over and above other more qualified or experienced males. Is it fair on those males who missed out, and is it fair on those females who deserved to be promoted but have a question mark over their heads – did they get their on their merits?

The progressive left would say it’s a price worth paying to ensure equity but I will leave you to draw your own conclusions of the merits of promoting people on their gender vs their competence and the implications for service delivery across our 140,000 staffed public service.

Certainly, my wide contacts tell me that the push to reach equity targets along with the new work-from-home flexibility is having a impact on the speed and quality of policy development and implementation that’s coming out of the bureaucracy.

Many of the old guard shake their head in disbelief at just how slow and inefficient government departments are under both the state and federal government. The recent fiasco over the live export boat is a case in point. One wonders just what would happen if we got a foot and mouth outbreak.

I may be wrong and all is well in the senior ranks of our bureaucrats, but the loss of experienced males or those who have given up and are maximising the opportunity to go slow and work from home because they see little hope of promotion is a cause for concern.

One last point. At the end of the breakfast, I did stand up in question time and bravely pointed out that while I noticed that there was a majority of women in the room, I also noticed a lack of older women or men.  I thought this was all about equality and diversity.

One must also feel for all the older professional women who did the hard yards in the old sexist days and who missed out on promotion and now are watching their younger sisters benefit from reverse discrimination while they sit out on the shelf suffering age discrimination.  I bet they are not happy.

Once you open the door to equity, women are only the start; where are the quotas for older workers, disabled workers, ethnic and indigenous? It’s a big can of worms that the women’s studies academics seem to not want to talk about.

Hopefully, at the next diversity and inclusivity breakfast I attend, the serving staff will be exactly 50:50 male female, the room will be 50:50 male female and there is the correct proportion of grey hair, burkas and indigenous and the panel discussion will address all the other minorities that deserve a place in the executive team.

Or maybe we will have a government that has thrown all this into the bin and we employ, pay and promote on merit as the 50 year old Anti-Discrimination Act demands.

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