November 2017 saw the release of the 2016-2017 data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).   Despite the headlines, which highlighted that the full-time gender pay gap in Australia was trending down, men still take home $26,527 a year more than women, and women are still underrepresented in management (38.4% of all managers) and board positions (24.9%).

WGEA reports on the ‘Waste Collection, Treatment and Disposal Services’, which has 11,861 employees within eight reporting organisations (so reporting for the ‘sector’ must be considered within this context).

Within these companies 19.3% of employees are female with this proportion remaining consistent with the previous year and the individual categories (from managers to trades and labourers) indicating no real changes to the gender composition of the workforce from previous years.

Whilst there is a single female CEO, many of the cultures and policies appear to have gone backwards. The number of employers that have set a target for the gender composition of governing bodies has decreased, comparative to a decrease in the employers that have an overall gender equality strategy.

The inequity across salary for the sector is also notable, with a 22.4% pay gap on full-time remuneration for women, which rises up to 24.9% for women in management positions. Overall, we trail a little behind the industry averages.

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So let’s start with what inclusive leadership looks like and how we move to workplaces that value diversity and are free of discrimination. There are numerous reports and articles telling us what the traits of inclusive leaders and organisations are, yet fewer examples.

The Diversity Council of Australia’s study, Building Inclusion: An Evidence-Based Model of Inclusive Leadership (2015) acknowledged that while leaders are critical to the success of diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives, there is a lack of inclusive leadership capabilities amongst Australian managers. We also have numerous reports highlighting the benefits of inclusive leadership and showing that it has a proven business case (for example the work by Deloitte). These countless reports and studies document the benefits that businesses gain when their Boards, management team and workforce reflect their customers and, more generally, the broader society.

So, if we know the benefits and those benefits are proven, why are more companies, and indeed sectors, not embracing inclusive leadership?

In reality, the practice of inclusive leadership is harder to grasp. It is easy for a company to make a policy on diversity, flexible working, salary equity, but ensuring practice and measuring levels of attainment against that policy, particularly those of inclusion, is perceived to be more difficult.

Peter Wilson, Chairman AHRI, has a lovely quote for this.

“Diversity is being asked to the party but inclusion is being asked to dance. Inclusion involves satisfying expectations about equity rather than equality. In brief, equity means fair treatment, distinct from treating everyone identically”.

AHRI surveys have indeed shown that while there is generally good understanding of inclusion and companies have adopted policy, practice against these endorsed principles is often patchy.

So, is the waste management sector an equity lagger in this area? I would argue ‘yes’. Certainly, any demonstration of gender pay gaps that are not defensible, disproportionate remuneration, inadequate support for working mothers (or fathers), a significant lack of diversity at management level, or a lack of inclusive flexible leave arrangements, are all signs of a problem.

Our industry is making progress, but this progress is too slow and the sector is suffering as a result. While the WGEA data does not paint a favourable position, the data is limited in several ways. Our industry urgently needs a comprehensive review of its progress towards inclusion to identify and build on both its shortcomings and its accomplishments.

Some of the industry associations representing the sector have recognised these issues, running ‘young professionals’ and ‘professional womens’ groups, providing support and, importantly, networking opportunities for participants (see WIRQs Professional Womens’ Network and Future Industry Leaders Alliance or WMAA’s Young Professionals Working Groups). After all, our ‘young professionals’ will be our future leaders, regardless (I hope) of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disabilities or anything else which is so often used to label individuals in the workforce. Labels in my view are rarely, if ever, positive.

In an already highly competitive sector, experiencing unprecedented disruption and innovation challenges, how is your company and the sector more broadly, going to drive and deliver a culture of inclusivity and build the skills needed for inclusive leadership? I will leave you with one thought. Organisations which run on the principles of inclusive leadership are more likely to be innovative and successful and therefore more competitive.


Note: WGEA is an Australian Government statutory agency charged with promoting and improving gender equality in Australian workplaces in accordance with the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (the Act). The Agency’s vision is for women and men to be equally represented, valued and rewarded in the workplace. Under the Act, non-public sector employers with 100 or more employees must submit a report annually to the Agency against six gender equality indicators. WGEA does not report against broader workforce diversity characteristics such as ethnicity or disability.