Tracey Spicer on what has and hasn't gotten better for women at work

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As a vocal advocate of equal opportunity for women, author and broadcaster, Tracey Spicer is a perfect guest to discuss the impacts of Equal Pay Day 2021 - August 31.

A Walkley Award winner, the former newsreader published her autobiography - The Good Girl Stripped Bare - in 2017 revealing her career experiences, which included a high level of sexual harassment and sexism. The book positioned her as the unofficial spokeswoman of Australia's #MeToo movement. Her career currently encompasses speaking, writing (mainly in the areas of inequality and social justice) and media training.

She is also researching a book about artificial intelligence and machine learning and their impacts on race and gender, which was triggered by her son telling her he wanted a robot slave, which she understood, in South Park-speak, to mean a Siri or Alexa, which embeds into the next generation the need for a female assistant to make life run well.

tracey spicer

Equal Pay Day is the symbolic date when, because of the gender pay gap, men could stop working and earn the same as their female peers who need to work for the rest of the year for the same amount. What does this mean to you and how can we work at pushing it out?

It's a reminder that inequity is still there, and really the pace of change is glacial.

We've seen the gender pay gap narrow gradually over the past 30 to 40 years, but there are so many barriers in the way.

For example, in Australia we are still one of the most gender-segregated workforces in the OECD. The industries with the highest pay are dominated by men, and it's very difficult for women to break into those industries and to get to the top.

There is still the struggle around caring leave - women are still considered the carers in society.

We have punctuated career trajectories, earn less over a lifetime, super balances are much less than men's - between one-third and one-half of men's balances - so the problems are multi-faceted.

We, as a community, governments and businesses, have to work together to change this because diversity is good for the bottom line - it makes everyone more money.

Four years ago, you published your autobiography. Why did you write it?

There were so many stories that remained untold at that point in history.

We would talk about our experiences of sexual harassment, or the gender pay gap or the lack of women in leadership with our friendship groups, but we didn't talk about it more widely than that.

To me, as a journalist, we should have been talking about it as these were important stories that affected half the population and would affect our daughters and the next generation.

So, I wanted to be candid about everything I saw and what happened to me in newsrooms because that's what happens in all workplaces to varying degrees.

How was it received?

I had some interesting people contact me - women telling me their stories - and I was also contacted by some male bosses who apologised and said that it was the culture of the time but that didn't make it right, and the book made them realise what they did and what others did, and that it wasn't okay.

There was some relief that workplace cultures have changed because toxic workplaces are not only bad for women, they're bad for men as well.

Have things gotten a lot better?

Things have improved over time; I wouldn't say they've improved dramatically. We now have phrasing and a framework around toxic workplaces.

We know how to call it out, we know the steps we need to take, but the problem is that to a degree there is still a black mark around the names of people who speak out, particularly with young people in workplaces - if they speak out they will be labelled a troublemaker.

The only way to create long-term change is to reduce the power imbalances in the workplace so people feel supported when they need to speak out.

How do you think people should mark August 31 this year?

If I had my way, people would go on strike and if it wasn't a pandemic there would be marching in the streets, like they did in Iceland, and that had a huge impact on the gender pay gap there.

But given the current circumstances I think that women should mark Equal Pay Day by either supporting a charity or not-for-profit organisation that particularly helps low-income women, or by joining a union, because unions are tremendous at raising the wages of people who are disadvantaged in the workplace, and they have become more female friendly in the recent decades.

Also [it's important for women to] talk to partners about how much they earn and perhaps how a male colleague is earning more than them doing the same thing, because I'm a firm believer that conversations from the loungeroom to the boardroom create long-term change.

What was your first job?

I had a series of very interesting part-time jobs while at school and university.

My two most interesting jobs were tutoring Indigenous kids in maths, which I absolutely loved, and the other was labelling bottles in a chlorine factory.

It really gave me a sense of what it's like in a workplace, where at that stage everyone had masks on and there were a lot of women from migrant backgrounds, and they were difficult working conditions.

It gave me a sense of understanding that these people are incredibly hard workers, and showed the value of hard work. We want our teenagers to work in jobs that are hard. I think it's important to understand the value of hard work.

What's the best money advice you've ever received?

Watch the pennies and the pounds will watch themselves. And every day it's a reminder that it's true. I used to be not very good with money growing up and I'd waste it terribly.

Now I realise that you can waste money each day on things that don't give you joy and I'm more careful I don't waste the money that I work so hard to earn.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

A friend of ours about 10 years ago suggested we started putting our money into a Vanguard fund. I'd never heard about these investment funds before.

It was the best investment decision we ever made: we chose the right funds, we were getting good returns and we felt comfortable that people were investing our money for us and that's been a complete eye-opener.

But I also once bought a car that appreciated in value.

It was when I was working as a newsreader and earning pretty good money - I bought a Karmann Ghia 1959. It had the most beautiful cream exterior and red leather interior, and because I looked after it beautifully I made money when I sold it. That's never happened with a car before or since.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

In a way it wasn't a decision, but [it was] Channel 10 shares. I'm a very loyal person and when I work for a company I think I should support them in every way I can.

When I worked there I bought the shares and they went through the floor.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

Travel. For about 12 years my main job was as a travel writer. We took our kids all over the world, from backpacking in Morocco to overnight trains in Vietnam.

I guess we're saving an awful lot now! I feel delighted we travelled when we did, but I feel so sad for people who can't do it now. It's the best splurge - you're buying priceless experiences.

If you had $10,000 right now, where would you invest it?

I would absolutely invest it in super. That compound interest is gold.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

I would give it to charity or a not-for-profit because there are always people more in need.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

I'd never even thought about it; I think that we will.

Would you like to see any changes with the way people look at money post-COVID?

Yes, definitely. One thing that Covid has taught us all is that old- fashioned saving is good. We need to put aside money for a rainy day.

Also, many of us get obsessed with online or retail shopping, buying the latest gadget, so that we don't have that safety net that we did generations ago.

One thing I'd love to see people do is have the backup so that when times are tough there's more of a soft landing.

Finish this sentence: money makes ...

... opportunities possible.

One thing I learned growing up in a low socio-economic area is that people, wherever they are, are just as lovely, just as smart, just as capable as everywhere else, but money gives people opportunity on top of education to break that cycle of poverty.

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Julia Newbould is the managing editor of Money magazine and is one of the hosts of the Friends With Money podcast. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
Comments
Mel Mac
August 28, 2021 2.47pm

Very interesting article. Would like to know what Vanguard fund Tracey invested in and through what (financial advisor, directly, wrap account). Thanks