Thursday, 23 March 2017

Homophobia is harmful to workers and businesses




Raymond Trau, RMIT University

Homophobia is costly to workers and the businesses that employ them, research shows. Unfortunately, it’s still prevalent in Australia and the latest lobbying from 34 business leaders for marriage equality emphasises the need for it to be addressed both within and outside the workplace. The Conversation
It’s little wonder some of Australia’s leading companies called on the government to get on with the job of legislating for marriage equality. Businesses increasingly recognise that homophobia and transphobia limit their organisation’s ability to attract and retain a high calibre workforce and is hurting their bottom-line.

As CEO of Deloitte, Cindy Hook, stated
I believe in fairness and inclusion for all and my overriding aim is for every one of our people at Deloitte to reach their full potential, which includes choosing who they marry.
Smart employers know that diverse and inclusive workplaces are more profitable, innovative and have employees who are more engaged, and have a higher level of staff retention.

Homophobia is prevalent and costly


Research tells us that close to one in two LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) Australians hide their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the workplace for fear being “out” could damage their careers.

And despite Australia having some of the most inclusive anti-discrimination protections in the world for LGBTI people, most LGBTI employees in Australia have witnessed or heard of homophobic incidents at work.

Those experiencing homophobia and transphobia are likely to have decreased well-being and negative work attitudes, suggesting that homophobia and transphobia (including not recognising LGBTI relationships) can hurt the quality of work life and the general well-being of LGBTI individuals.

LGBTI individuals face barriers even before they start a job. The probability of gay and lesbian applicants being selected for a job interview is lower than it is for their heterosexual counterparts. This is especially true for those residing in areas lacking legal protection such as Texas in the United States and working in male or female-dominated industries.

Homophobia and transphobia can also have a detrimental impact on productivity and profitability. In Australia, lesbian and gay marketing specialist firm Out Now estimates the financial benefits associated with encouraging closeted workers to come out could be as much as A$285 million per year. This includes an 11% increase in staff retention and 30% improvement in the productivity of closeted workers.

Research from the US shows companies that adopt LGBTI-supportive policies achieve higher productivity and profitability resulting in a greater growth in their share price. This is compared to companies that are not supportive of their LGBTI employees. So LGBTI inclusion makes good business sense.

What should business do?


Over the past decade, companies have made significant progress towards creating more inclusive workplaces for LGBTI employees. And this is having a pay-off for all employees, as a recent review of LGBTI studies shows.

Research shows that inclusive leaders play a critical role in unlocking the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace. Having an inclusive leader who is a member of a minority group may reduce unconscious bias towards this minority group.

So it follows that having visible LGBTI senior leaders in an organisation could help to reduce homophobic and transphobic attitudes and demonstrate a more inclusive culture within the organisation.

Research in social psychology has also found that clear instructions to avoid stereotyping can be an effective way to reduce unconscious bias. Therefore, a firm and consistent message on LGBTI inclusion from supervisors, managers and executives, may minimise unconscious bias and stereotyping towards LGBTI employees.

Companies can also create an LGBTI-inclusive workplace by developing and implementing specific LGBTI-inclusive policies and practices. Examples of this include providing information and support to LGBTI employees (such as establishing a LGBTI network) and also making the support of LGBTI inclusive initiatives visible to all their employees, business partners and the community.

Businesses can also create diversity champions, employees who model inclusive behaviour and positive attitudes towards LGBTI employees. These champions can create a safe space for LGBTI individuals. This practice is increasingly common in sports.

Homophobia is costly to individuals, businesses and the community. Unfortunately, it is still prevalent and needs to be addressed both within and outside the workplace. Leaders, organisations and the community should work together to tackle homophobia and achieve equality.


Cathy Brown contributed to this article. She is the Policy and Research Manager at Diversity Council Australia and is also an Authorised Marriage Celebrant.
Raymond Trau, Lecturer, RMIT University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Gas crisis? Energy crisis? The real problem is lack of long-term planning

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The long view: energy policy needs to stay firmly focused on the horizon. Mattinbgn/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA




If you’ve been watching the news in recent days, you’ll know we have an energy crisis, partly due to a gas crisis, which in turn has triggered a political crisis. The Conversation

That’s a lot of crises to handle at once, so lots of solutions are being put forward. But what do people and businesses actually need? Do they need more gas, or cheaper prices, or more investment certainty, or all or none of the above? How do we cut through to what is really important, rather than side details?

The first thing to note is that what people really care about is their energy costs, not energy prices. This might seem like a pedantic distinction, but if homes and businesses can be helped to waste less energy, then high prices can be offset by lower usage.

The second thing to note is that energy has become very confusing. A host of short- and long-term problems have developed over decades of policy failure, meaning that there is no single solution.
Take gas prices, which were indirectly responsible for South Australia’s blackouts last month. Last week, SA Premier Jay Weatherill responded by unveiling a A$550-million plan including a new state-owned gas power station, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed to have secured a promise of secure domestic supply from gas producers.

Short-term thinking


It is crucial to keep the ultimate goals in focus, or else our short-term solutions could exacerbate long-term problems.

For electricity, we want to avoid blackouts and limit prices and overall costs. We need to do this in ways that allow us to meet our climate constraints, so we need solutions with zero or very low greenhouse emissions.

For gas, we need to ensure enough supply for local demand, at reasonable prices, and give large consumers the opportunity to negotiate contracts over reasonable time frames.

This means we need to allocate more of our gas to local consumers, because increasing overall gas production would just add to our long-term climate problems.

Peak gas and electricity prices are entangled. In our electricity markets, the most expensive generator needed to maintain supply in a given period sets the price for all the generators. So if an expensive gas generator sets a high price, all of the coal and renewable energy generators make windfall profits – at the consumer’s expense.

So either we need to ensure gas generators don’t set the price, or that they charge a reasonable price for the power they generate.

Quick fixes


Demand management and energy storage are short-term fixes for high peak prices. Paying some electricity or gas consumers to use less at peak times, commonly called “demand response”, frees up electricity or gas, so prices don’t increase as much.

Unfortunately, policymakers have failed to introduce effective mechanisms to encourage demand response, despite the recommendations of numerous policy reviews over the past two decades. This is a serious policy failure our politicians have not addressed. But it could be fixed quickly, with enough political will.

Energy storage, particularly batteries and gas storage, can be introduced quickly (within 100 days, if Tesla’s Elon Musk is to be believed). Storage “absorbs” excess energy at times of low demand, and releases it at times of shortage. This reduces the peak price by reducing dependence on high-priced generators or gas suppliers, as well as reducing the scope for other suppliers to exploit the shortage to raise prices.

The same thinking is behind Turnbull’s larger proposal to add new “pumped hydro” capacity to the Snowy Hydro scheme, although this would take years rather than weeks.

Thus South Australia’s plan, which features battery storage and changes to the rules for feeding power into the grid, addresses short-term problems. Turnbull’s pumped hydro solution is longer-term, although his handshake deal with gas suppliers may help in the short term.

The long view


When we consider the long term, we must recognise that we need to slash our carbon emissions. So coal is out, as is any overall expansion of natural gas production.

Luckily, we have other affordable long-term solutions. The International Energy Agency, as well as Australian analysts such as ClimateWorks and Beyond Zero Emissions, see energy efficiency improvement as the number-one strategy – and in many cases, it actually saves us money and helps to offset the impact of higher energy prices. Decades of cheap gas and electricity mean that Australian industry, business and households have enormous potential to improve energy efficiency, which would save on cost.

We can also switch from fossil gas to biogas, solar thermal and high-efficiency renewable electricity technologies such as heat pumps, micro-filtration, electrolysis and other options.

Renewable energy (not just electricity) can supply the rest of our needs. Much to the surprise of many policymakers, it is now cheaper than traditional options and involves much less investment risk. Costs are continuing to fall.

But we need to supplement renewable energy with energy storage and smart demand management to ensure reliable supply. That’s where options such as pumped hydro storage, batteries and heat-storage options such as molten salt come in.

This is why the crisis is more political than practical. The solutions are on offer. It will become much more straightforward if politicians free themselves from being trapped in the past and wanting to prop up powerful incumbent industries.

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

How microfinance reduces gender inequality in developing countries

A Xhosa family at their home, Mthtata, Transkei, South Africa.

Quanda Zhang, RMIT University and Alberto Posso, RMIT University

An increase in the proportion of women accessing microfinance services by just 15% could potentially reduce gender inequality, as measured by the Gender Inequality Index, by half in the average developing nation. The finding comes from a recent study published in Applied Economics Letters that also found that cultural characteristics can influence this relationship. The Conversation

Gender equality refers to the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men, girls and boys. It does not imply that women and men are the same, but that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men should be taken into consideration while recognising diversity across different populations.

While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality under the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in many parts of the world.

Take girl’s education for example, only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990 in southern Asia. By 2012, enrolment had ratios remained the same.

Girls also face barriers to entering both primary and secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and western Asia. Disadvantages in education translate into a lack of skills and limited opportunities in the labour market. In northern Africa, for instance, women hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector.

Microfinance and gender inequality


Microfinance gets its popularity and fame from Mohammad Yunus, who began experimenting with lending to poor women in the village of Jobra, Bangladesh, during his tenure as a professor of economics at Chittagong University, in the 1970s. In 2006, he won the Nobel Peace prize for pioneering the concepts of microfinance and establishing the Grameen Bank in 1983.

Since then, various forms of microfinance programs have been introduced in many countries.
Generally speaking, microfinance is the extension of small loans to the very poor, in combination with other financial services such as saving facilities, training, health services, networking, and peer support. This enables people to pursue entrepreneurial projects that generate extra income, thus helping them to better provide for themselves and their families.

The last 30 years have shown that microfinance is a proven development tool capable of providing a vast number of the poor, particularly women, with sustainable tailored financial services that enhance their welfare.

According to Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2015, 3,098 microfinance institutions had reached over 211 million clients by 2013, 114 million of whom were living in extreme poverty. Of these poorest clients, 82.6%, or over 94 million, were women.

Conceptually, microfinance enables poor women to engage in income-generating activities that help them become financially independent, strengthening their decision-making power within the household and society. It is through this channel that economists argue that microfinance has the potential to reduce gender inequality.

But country-level community-based microeconomic research from across the developing world both supports and contradicts this premise. Given this inconclusive evidence, we thought a macroeconomic approach that pulls information from many countries together might provide a clearer picture.

Evidence from around the world


Our study uses data from 64 developing countries from between 2003 and 2014 to examine general international trends and patterns on gender inequality and microfinance.

Gender inequality is measured with two popular indicators from the UN: Gender Development-related Index (GDI) and Gender Inequality Index (GII). These are composite indices based on measures of differences in health, education, living standards, empowerment, and economic status.
The key variable of significance in our analysis is a gendered indicator of microfinance usage, defined as the proportion of female clients as a share of the total national population. We constructed this measure using microfinance data from MIX Market, a microfinance auditing firm.

We found evidence of a negative relationship between women’s participation in microfinance and gender inequality. In other words, we found that gender inequality will potentially decrease when women’s participation increases. As noted above, in the average developing nation, an increase in microfinance by around 15% is associated with a decline in gender inequality by about half.

But we also found that cultural characteristics that govern the relationships between men and women can potentially influence this relationship. For example, pressure on women to take on cooking and rearing responsibilities within the home could potentially limit their ability to fully adopt employment opportunities through microfinance-generated investments.

That religion does not necessarily play a role in explaining the interaction between microfinance and gender inequality is another one of our findings. Instead, national conservatism and microfinance firms’ adoption of culturally-appropriate local practices potentially does. Many firms acknowledge the difficulties associated with women working outside the house in certain communities, for instance, so they help women establish small businesses at home, sometimes pulling resources together across households.

Policy implications


More microcredit in developing nations then is clearly good news for women. Since gender inequality is measured as composite indices of health, education and income indicators, it’s natural to conclude that greater access to credit in women’s hands will mean greater access to education and health as well as income-generating opportunities.

Given these positive outcomes, governments and international organisations in developing nations should continue to promote microcredit institutions to indirectly empower women. But they must keep in mind that microfinance does not automatically empower women.

Country-specific and cultural factors play a key role in determining how microfinance interacts with gender inequality. And these should be considered when assessing the impact of microcredit in the developing world.

Quanda Zhang, PhD Candidate in Economics, RMIT University and Alberto Posso, Associate Professor of Economics, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.