'Beautiful' policies just aren't working


'Beautiful' policies just aren't working

Australia's former Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner has blasted Australia's attempts at family-friendly workplaces and declared war on 'beautiful policies and smokescreens'.


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Australia's former Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner has blasted Australia's attempts at family-friendly workplaces and declared war on 'beautiful policies and smokescreens'.

Susan Halliday, now a director of Halliday Business Insights, told ACIRRT's recent Working Time Today conference it was 'time to stand up and be vocal'.

She said the 'significant questions' posed in the conference brochure were absolute 'understatements'.

Has a preoccupation with flexibility reduced the quality of working, family and community life?

Flexible working is simply a 'powerful tool for those who already have power and nothing else,' she said.

Are there alternative approaches to managing working time today?

'Of course there are,' Ms Halliday said, 'but individuals who rule are stopping those types of environments from emerging'.

How do the hours of work and working time aspirations of Australians compare to those in other countries?

Not well, the conference heard. 'The reality shows that while Australian women working part-time have the same number of children as women in the US who are working part-time, Australian women working full-time have six times fewer children that those in the US.'

Ms Halliday said the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and business was still framed predominantly around traditional hours of work, not the working patterns of women nor their biology.

'There are a whole range of things we need to alter from the core,' she said.

'The constant applying of bandaids and catch-up is not going to solve the problem.'

Ms Halliday said one of the first priorities should be to make parent gender a neutral term.

'Then we will see change,' she said.

'We're so far from it it's ridiculous. When something goes wrong we blame the women … because they're the ones who put the children in childcare.'

She also called for a removal of the 'smokescreens' that had created 'all those beautiful policies'.

'I can't tell you how long I went to award ceremonies and watched particular companies stand up and receive awards knowingly having complaints of harassment and bullying in my in-tray,' Ms Halliday recalled.

'Smokescreens are killing us. The beautifully worded policies that say you can do X but if you do it's career suicide, is no different from 'why are women complaining - we've got EEO legislation'.

Ms Halliday said that at the end of the day, the beautiful policies might be what were fair and reasonable, but if you really wanted to get on in your career, you did what the bosses do.

She said many people chose not to use family friendly policies because they knew it would be detrimental for their careers.

'So let's get rid of the smokescreens and the patting on the back,' she urged.

Ms Halliday also believed it was time to identify the need for individual vigilance and to measure it.

'Performance appraisals and any other form of measurement assessment has to ensure the person is not given a tick unless the person has done something pro-active in this area,' she said.

Of particular importance, Ms Halliday stressed, was the need for new laws.

'We must allow law - the only framework we use when we're really serious about change - to be created to ensure progress in this area.

'I'm so over education - when we care, we bring in laws. If we care, use law as the backbone and then educate. Education per se is a waste of time because you only educate those who want to be educated.'

She said it was time to deal with today's realities and today's needs, 'because we're going backwards.

'We have a major problem on our hands and culture is a significant part of it.

'You can have all the beautiful policies in the world, you can have your smokescreens, your awards - but what changes?

'We need to be adopting the EU measures and start insuring through law that we can offer a minimum appropriate standard.

'Throughout Europe there are an enormous amount of things that are being enforced with respect to minimum standards.'

Ms Halliday said she didn't believe she'd see a 'fair and equitable world' in her lifetime.

'We have to stand up and be vocal,' she said.

'Because we have a lot of work yet to do.'

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