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Debating flexibility

20 November 2013


Is flexible working the key to gender equality? That was the question debated at the Diversity Council of Australia in its sold-out annual fundraiser held on 12 November 2013.  Ably moderated by Tony Jones of Q&A fame, the debate was in turns witty and provocative.


The “yes” team of Dr Graham Russell, Annabel Crabb and Tracy Spicer presented their case with sparkle.  Flexibility they said is not merely flexible work practices primarily used by women but true flexibility for all.  Getting men out of the work place is the key to getting women in it.  Annabel Crabb sang the praises of the wife “ the most valuable asset of any workplace” and the one asset which she would most like to have available to her.  Tracy Spicer used her tv experience and props- a key and a hammer- to deliver a simple message that flexibility is key.


However, despite the audience appeal of team “yes”, team “no” was the clear victor, the sheer force of its case convincing the audience to vote no. 


The “no” team of Professor Marion Baird, Geoff Hogg and Lisa Annese presented a nuanced case: although flexibility is an enabler, it is not the key to gender equality.  Rather issues such as pay parity, sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and unconscious bias are much bigger issues on the road to gender equality.  Armed with figures illustrating a disturbing increase in the amount of pregnancy discrimination cases in the workplace, the high incidence of reported sexual harassment and the 17.5% gender pay gap, team “no” romped home. The inequality of opportunity and the negative perceptions associated with women being the only users of flexible work practices were also high on the team “no“ list of reasons why flexibility is not key.


It was a most entertaining evening, but one which underlined the need to change culture (both inside and outside the workplace) to foster gender equality.