Gender diversity – what will it take for corporate Australia to lift its game?
Monday, 19 September 2011 — Despite the increased awareness of gender equity issues, gender equity programs and seemingly diversity champions in every corner, Australia is yet to see a tangible change when it comes to the representation of women in senior roles, a report released by Ernst & Young has found.
Women in Leadership – what will it take to get Australia on target? looks into what needs to be done to create change in female representation at the highest levels of business leadership.
In 2006, Australia was a relatively respectable fifteenth on the Global Gender Equity Index. By 2010, we had fallen to twenty-third overall, behind the Philippines, Latvia and Mozambique1 - and fifty-ninth for wage equality for similar work. To put this in further perspective, New Zealand was seventh in 2006 – it’s now fifth.
Female representation will not improve until we develop robust pipelines of talent
Ernst & Young People and Organisation Leader Amy Poynton said representation of women in senior positions would not improve until the business community developed credible pipelines of talent that ensured women could progress to the very top.
“The new ASX diversity reporting guidelines are now in play but there is little evidence that corporate Australia has yet lifted its game,” Ms Poynton says.
ASX 200 boards achieved 12.7% female representation in the past year but this will not make a material difference when research shows you need at least three women on a board before gender diversity has its greatest impact on financial performance
In ASX 200 companies, women hold only 8% of executive roles and just 4.1% of line management roles, compared with 24.1% of support roles2, which are rarely on the radar for top executive jobs and board roles. Similarly, in the ASX 201-300, women occupy only 6% of board seats.
Getting a better return on our national investment in education
Ms Poynton says from an economic perspective, education is seen as the ultimate national investment in human capital.
“The theory is that a country's economy becomes more productive as the proportion of educated workers increases, since educated workers are able to more efficiently carry out tasks that require literacy and critical thinking.”
“But for half the population, equity ends at graduation. Women may reach equal levels of attainment in tertiary education, but representation falls off very quickly as soon as they enter the workforce,” Ms Poynton says.
According to the 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, Australia’s 2010 enrolment in tertiary education had a female to male ratio of 1.30, whereas our equivalent 2010 labour force participation ratio was 0.853.
“What this means is that tax payers are not getting a decent return on their $16.5 billion annual investment in female education. Productivity levels are continuing to fall, as the female graduates Australia has paid to educate drop out of the workforce when forced to choose between career and family,” Ms Poynton says.
Ms Poynton says to keep women in the workforce, we need to:
- De-gender parental care
- Create engaging and challenging career options for women
- Create true part time and flexible work options
- Re-look at the economics of child care
- Re-look at how contribution is valued and rewarded in the work place, especially for those on flexible work arrangements.
Tackling the uncomfortable issue of quotas
Ms Poynton acknowledges that the concept of ‘targets’, or ‘quotas’, can create an atmosphere of misunderstanding but says they may be the only way to achieve gender equity.
“If self-imposed targets and reporting requirements cannot accomplish this, in the short term, targets or quotas might be the only way to ensure equal representation.”
“Once we have a level playing field, Australia can capitalise on the subsequent advantages of improved innovation, business performance and productivity,” Ms Poynton says.
1 Global Gender Gap Report, World Economic Fund, 2010
2 Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency Census 2010
3 Global Gender Gap Report, World Economic Forum, 2010
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