It's time to stop the battle of the sexes

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Thursday 24 October 2013 - Australian business and government need to stop pitting men against women in the conversations about gender diversity according to a new report released today by EY, Women in Leadership – in his own words.

The report is based on interviews with nine leading Australian business leaders in the public and private sectors, including Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, CBA CEO David Narev, Telstra CEO Ian Thodey and Secretary to the Department of Treasury, Dr Martin Parkinson. It found that, while gender equity is a national imperative, Australia’s progress is still hamstrung by bias and ingrained cultural and organisational beliefs.

According to EY CEO, Rob McLeod, it’s imperative for Australian businesses and government to remain vigilant on gender diversity in the workplace.

“At the heart of this issue is the national economic benefit of getting gender diversity right which will have long-term repercussions for our national productivity and our overall economic outlook,” Rob said.

“We need to accept that measures taken to date have not yielded the results we hoped for and we need to re-consider the way we are progressing this important conversation to address biases once and for all.”

The interviewees agreed that getting around the bias that still exists will require radical changes at a business, government and broader societal level. They identified a number of issues as impeding positive change, including ingrained cultural and organisational beliefs, unconscious bias, societal norms and, in some cases, sheer ignorance.

According to Dr Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre, “organisational culture is often based on bad habits and people who are used to having a certain person succeed. If you challenge the whole basis on which a role is secured then that’s threatening, so people resist.”

Ian Narev, CEO CBA, believes an organisation’s failure to address gender equity often comes down to unconscious bias. “It’s one of the main barriers to progression on this issue. Unconscious bias leads to one of the biggest pitfalls for leaders: recruiting in their own image. Sometimes unconsciously, and sometime consciously, decisions are being made that see men recruiting more men.”

EY’s report highlights what organisations and government need to do differently.

For business there is still a need to address the cultural issues that are stopping targets and flexible work practices from having their intended effects.

Interviewees agree that positive change requires business leaders to articulate the case for gender equity and constantly communicate the value of gender diversity amongst leadership teams as well as more broadly across the organisation. They also need to stop promoting clones, give equity targets real consequences and welcome constructive criticism and new ideas.

For government, the recommendations include setting up parental leave schemes, education campaigns and community groups that support shared care, addressing childcare accessibility and affordability, making flexible working hours a right for all Australians and ceasing to write bias into legislation.

The business leaders also agreed that men need to continue to drive the agenda.

According to Dr Martin Parkinson, Secretary to the Department of Treasury, “These issues need to be led by the CEO of an organisation and supported by the leadership team. And it is men who are still predominately running large organisations in this country.”

“If men don’t talk to other men about this, it will forever remain a women’s issue,” he said.

A full copy of the report and interviews can be found here.


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This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young Australia, a member firm of Ernst & Young Global Limited. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.


Contact details:

Kate Davies
EY Australia
Tel: 9248 5428 or + 61 421 615 202