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Why we still haven’t got gender diversity right

Man versus woman in arm wrestle

Although many organisations are being proactive when it comes to introducing greater gender diversity, Australia still doesn’t seem to be hitting the mark. Here’s a look at what businesses should be doing in the diversity space to ensure they can grow and perform competitively.

As International Women’s Day celebrations draw to a close, I thought it would be appropriate to turn our attention this month to the topic of woman in business. Australia seems to have diversity on their agenda again in 2012, so I have to ask the question. Why are we still dealing with engrained bias and barriers to the diversity agenda in so many Australian organisations?

The ASX Corporate Governance Council has a requirement for publicly listed Australian companies to ‘adopt and disclose a diversity policy that includes measurable objectives relating to gender’. In addition to this the imminent reporting of the review of the Equal Opportunity for Women in Work Agency are intensifying with the scrutiny now being placed on performance in this area. On 2 March 2012 a Bill was tabled in Parliament on the changes to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency’s (EOWA’s) underlying legislation, so this issue is not going to go away.

Nareen Young, CEO Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) believes ”the reforms will enable Australian employers to deliver better outcomes for women and men in their workplaces, while also generating business and productivity benefits”.  There will be greater focus on pay equity, streamlined reporting, strengthened compliance and more industry assistance.  The reform also broadens the Act to encompass women and men in relation to caring responsibilities, thus enabling Australian men to take an increased care-giving role in in their family.

So what are the real issues at the heart of the matter? I think it has a lot to do with the lack of pay equity, access to training and promotional opportunities and flexible work arrangements and practices. With the global skills shortage we currently face it doesn’t make sense for Australian business not to want to strongly encourage woman’s participation in the workforce.

Margie Hartley’s October blog called “Gender Diversity – the disappearing pipeline of women and thoughts on leadership challenges”, provides both economical and rational logic to the subject matter. Here is the link and I would encourage you to read it. What really caught my eye in the blog was the number of articles in the SMH and The Age late last year, based on a report written by Tim Toohey, Chief Economist Goldman Sachs. This report states “that closing the gap between male and female participation in the workplace would increase economic production in Australia by 13 percent or approximately $180 million.” Surely this is common sense – maybe not!

Dr Helen Szoke, Commissioner for Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission believes ”embracing gender diversity is not about establishing quotas nor is it about political correctness. It is about identifying and addressing systemic barriers that prevent women from fully and meaningfully participating in the workforce. Embracing gender diversity is not only a business imperative but also makes good business sense.”

Dr Szoke encourages HR practitioners to develop strategies for addressing and eliminating discrimination, which she believed could be achieved by focusing on some of the following areas:

The final aspect to share with you from my research was a CEO ToolKit developed by Ernst & Young. This ToolKit identifies the core issues that shape gender diversity outcomes and poses six questions CEO’s should be asking about women in their own organisation and is available via their website.

There are so many proactive things some organisations are doing and yet we still don’t seem to be hitting the mark as a nation. For business to grow and competitively perform they need to start thinking and doing things differently, particularly around the development of a pipeline of diverse team leaders for our next future generation.

So what are you doing to change your leadership processes and practices, in order to support and develop the women in your workplace to progress their careers?

  • http://www.tmrutherford.com.au Tanya Rutherford

    Interesting article, also worth considering gender diversity within a profession or industry context. Having a good balance of men and women in both predominately male and predominately female industries. I believe we all work best when we work together and blend our strengths.

    I am also curious – how can people learn “common sense” these days? There seems to be a shortage of appropriate role models and passing on of practical or common sense… Would love to hear your thoughts on that.