How Far We've Come with NGS Super - Lifting the Commonwealth Marriage Bar

Part 3: Lifting the Commonwealth Marriage Bar

Squiz it to me

Take me back to the 1960s... 
It was a time of massive change in Oz... The nation started to legally recognise Indigenous Australians. We went all the way with LBJ as Lyndon Johnson made the first presidential visit to Oz ever. Men walked on the moon. And Beatlemania was in full swing.

And what about Aussie women? 
Drumroll, please... In 1961, the oral contraceptive pill arrived on our shores, giving women more control over their lives and careers. But when it first arrived, it was only available to married women.

Indeed. And the Commonwealth Marriage Bar also meant that many industries, including the public service, wouldn't hire married women. When women tied the knot, they essentially had 2 choices; hide their marriage or resign.

How did it play out? 
Let's look at the example of ABC employee Merle Thorton. She managed to hide her marriage for 2 years, but when she fell pregnant, her employer forced her to leave.

I bet Merle wasn't happy about that... 
You're right - and Merle wasn't one to sop discrimination lightly. In fact, in  1965, Merle and her friend Rosalie Bogner handcuffed themselves to the Regatta Hotel bar in Brisbane to protest Queensland laws that prohibited women from drinking in public bars. The protest led to news headlines around the world.

Good on her. 
Too right. And Merle used that publicity to establish the Equal Opportunities for Women Association. The goal: end the Commonwealth Marriage Bar.

So what happened next? 
It wasn't an easy fight. Some members of the federal government, which was led by Liberal PM Robert Menzies, weren't keen on the idea of ending the Commonwealth Marriage Bar. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had even said that the Australian social structure would be best served if there were no changes.

But in 1966, Menzies announced his retirement after serving 18 years as PM. And 10 months later, the parliament passed a bill lifting the Commonwealth Marriage Bar.

It was a big change, but unfortunately, it was still legal to discriminate against women when it came to employment. It would take another 2 decades before that became illegal.

Where are we today?

Despite making up almost half of the Australian workforce, women are significantly less likely to hold managerial or executive positions compared with men. 

A not-so-fun fact: The leadership gender gap exists - even in female-dominated industries like teaching, health care and retail.

Why it's important: Well, not only is it a problem for diversity, it's a big part of the gender pay gap.

The numbers:
 One in 10 - companies in the ASX300 (aka the biggest 300 companies listed on the Australian stock exchange) are chaired by women. And women hold around 35% of those companies' board positions.

15% - the proportion of key operational roles (aka have responsibility for an aspect of the business's profit/loss) occupied by women at ASX200 companies. In 2019, there were more men called Andrew leading ASX200 companies than there were women.

53% - the percentage of companies that have set targets to address gender equity in the workplace. Of those that have set targets, the majority are looking to increase the number of women in leadership

Where to from here?

• One crucial factor that affects women's access to leadership positions is the type of work they do. In Australia, 42% of women work full-time, while 67% of men do. This gap is cited as one of the reasons why women are underrepresented in leadership positions.

• The good news for those trying to juggle work and family life is that flexible working arrangements are gaining ground. Data says letting workers choose when and how they work can enhance job satisfaction, increase productivity and help retain top talent.

• Quotas are also gaining traction as a way to promote women, particularly in politics. For example: the Labor Party have a 2025 target of 50% of winnable seats at all elections being contested by female candidates. Broadly, the Liberal Party has been resistant, but there has been some talk about it recently.s and engineering (STEM). Despite making up over half of all university graduates, women accounted for 36% of STEM graduates in 2022.

• There are a couple of reasons why this is the case, but a phrase that gets thrown around a lot is 'unconscious bias'. If you're looking for an explainer on the topic, here's one we found helpful.

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