Women's situation 'dire': CEO

HISTORIC and systemic gender inequality has led to the creation of Australia's "new poor" - women - according to a leading local government executive.

NSW Local Government Managers Australia's chief executive officer Annalisa Haskell used the International Women's Day event at The Pavilion, Kiama to highlight gender pay disparity - women earn on average 17 per cent less than men - and under-representation of women in government, professional careers and board rooms.

More than 70 women celebrated Thursday's International Women's Day by attending the breakfast.

Organised by Kiama Council, Inspiring Women Kiama, and Business in Heels Illawarra, the morning also included guest speaker, author Jodie Cooper.

Ms Haskell said women being under-represented in leadership roles and a lack of financial independence had contributed to creating a "dire" situation for women in Australia.

Ms Haskell, who has enjoyed a successful international marketing career, said the absence of women in the full-time workforce and leadership positions was costing us as an economy.

Citing the 2009 JB Were/Goldman Sachs Australia's Hidden Resource report, Ms Haskell said closing the female-male employment gap could boost the Australian GDP by 11 per cent.

The report's executive summary said governments could do more to close the gender employment gap by creating incentives for women with higher education levels to move into courses and career paths beyond education and training, health and social services.

"Women are not getting into leadership positions despite being more qualified, or skilled or more capable," she said

"Women either hold themselves back or are held back. I think it's a bit of both actually."

The report also says that despite higher educational attainment in those industries, there is not a single industry in Australia that women earn more than men.

Ms Haskell, who is also a YMCA director, said her own experiences in both public and private sectors (her CV includes Optus, St George) illustrated the research.

Apologising first if she caused offence, Ms Haskell said in many cases women "dumbed themselves down" in accepting part-time jobs to accommodate family commitments.

"I am now nearly 50 and I'm sad to say that of all the skilled and educated women that I know, there would be only two of us left who are working at a high level at the level that we were educated for, now," she said.

"Most of them bailed out and that's not a derogatory thing, but they bailed out because it got too hard to manage their lives. It wasn't that they didn't want to work but there was stress at home, around competing interests of family and guilt with husbands and believe me, it happens."

Ms Haskell promoted self belief and positioning, including understanding financial aspects of chosen fields, as key factors in women realising goals.

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