Prioritizing gender equity in Australia

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Australia’s Chief of Defence and Secretary to the Treasury have prioritized the issue of greater gender equity in their respective organizations. General David Hurley and Dr. Martin Parkinson tell us why, as men, they feel so strongly about this issue.

“We need to impart in male minds the fact that women are warriors too.”

– General David Hurley, Chief of Defence, Australia

The 5th installment of our Women in Leadership campaign — In his own words — showcases the views of some of Australia's most prominent male leaders and asks them why gender equity is important to organizations and to the nation as a whole.

In their experience, diversity at all levels lowers risk and improves organizational performance.

General David Hurley, Chief of the Defence since July 2011, leads an organization made up of the Australian Public Service (APS) and the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The APS in Defence has remained a very male-dominated public service area for many years, says General Hurley. “Nearly all the senior women we have produced have left the department and gone on to senior positions elsewhere.” In the ADF, by contrast, women tend to stay for far longer.”

Dr. Martin Parkinson, Secretary to the Treasury since April 2011, believes it is crucial that these issues are led by the CEO of an organization, and supported by the leadership team. “Organizational and cultural change can’t be left to the HR Department to deal with alone.”

General Hurley says time is of the essence. “If you wait for this change to occur by gravity or by nature, it is not going to change quickly enough — you need active intervention for the culture to change,” he says.

The business case for gender equity is clear, says General Hurley, but this message doesn’t always echo as far as it should.

“We recruit young men from a society where they have grown up with certain views of the roles that women play and they bring these views into the organization.”

The Treasury Department has made some progress, but significant challenges remain. “The proportion of female graduates we recruited increased markedly during the 1990s, and approximately half of Treasury graduates have been women for quite some time,” Dr. Parkinson says. “We thought that over time, people would work their way through the system and we would see greater proportions of women coming through into the senior executive ranks. In fact, this did not happen.”

The department conducted a series of interviews and workshops to better understand the challenges that women were facing in the workplace.

“One of the results showed that although we had done a great job in providing flexibility and supporting part-time work in the workplace, we had not actually re-designed jobs to suit the staff,” says Dr. Parkinson.

Perhaps the key conclusion from our research is that Australia is having the wrong conversation. It's time to stop pitting men against women, parents against the child-free and full time against part time employees. Everyone who can, should be allowed the opportunity to contribute to the economic well-being of the nation for the benefit of all Australians.

Read the full article: Breaking barriers