Why Australia Needs To Take Off The Glass Slipper

While women at work are trying to crack through their idea of a glass ceiling, there’s a little glass slipper vying for our attention too. The Glass Slipper effect, propounded by Karen Ashcraft and expounded in her keynote address at the National Centre for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Summit, is very real and deserves redress.

The Glass Slipper Analogy

The Glass slipper brings to focus the tip of ‘balance’ when women try to fit into ‘male congenial roles.’ The analogy of trying to put on a slipper that simply doesn’t fit is apt; the roles have already been defined against women even before they attempted to try it on.

Women as firefighters, for example. In most minds, they don’t fit the “role.” To the question, “Do you think women can be firefighters too?” one respondent says: “women can make adequate firefighters, even great ones, and in many cases far out perform their male counterparts in their primary function, which tends to be emergency medical response and patient care… Women firefighters have also been shown to be more successful at diffusing volatile situations encountered by fire/medical people because they have a calming affect… How about confined spaces? Crawl spaces, attics, etc… Would there be an advantage to a smaller in stature female in an ability to access those areas?” And yet, firefighting is considered to be a male congenial occupation. That is the glass slipper effect.

Australia’s glass slipper

45.9% of the full-time labour force in Australia is made up of women, but a mere 3.5% of CEOs of ASX500 companies are women. Glass slipper effect? Definitely so. As the numbers show, leadership roles are still considered to be more suitable for the male workforce. According to the “Australian Census of Women in Leadership”, gender parity in CEO roles is expected to be reached by the year 2343, which is still a long way to go.

The glass slipper effect extends to more than roles in an organisation; it encompasses entire industries. Here is a look at the percentage of women and men in various sectors in Australia. Looks great on the Health Care front but take a look at the Mining industry – 14%.

Glass slipper? Yes.

Does it matter? Yes it does; the mining sector has been the greatest contributor to the Gross State Product (GSP) in Australia, at a whopping 30%. Therefore, it is a definite cause of concern that a majority of the women workforce is being excluded from the biggest industry in Australia.

And is the glass slipper warranted? Research by Women in Mining (UK) research showed the benefits of having a more gender diverse board in the mining industry: “Of the top 500 mining companies surveyed, the 18 mining companies with 25% or more of their board comprised of women had an average net profit margin for the 2011 financial year that was 49% higher than the average net profit margin for all top 500 mining companies … those mining companies with female board members have a higher average profit margin overall (23%) than the average net profit margin for the top 100 mining companies (20%).”

There is a clear need for Australia to take off the glass slipper when it comes to the balance of women in the workforce.


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