Take action or we’ll walk: young women expect more from corporate Australia when it comes to gender equity

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Friday 6 March, 2015 - Australia’s emerging female leaders believe it’s time for corporate Australia to move beyond the rhetoric on gender equity and take meaningful action or risk losing  key talent to non-corporate sectors.

According to a new report released by EY ahead of International Women’s Day, despite two decades of effort to move the gender equity needle, young Australian women are still not convinced big corporations will allow them to have the flexibility they need in their careers.  And they are increasingly willing to vote with their feet, leaving corporate jobs to build careers on their own terms.

The report, Speaking up – In the words of emerging leaders, is the sixth instalment in EY’s Women in Leadership series and is based on in depth interviews with eight of Australia’s next generation of female leaders.

EY’s Oceania Markets Leader, Lynn Kraus says that while the Australian business community has made some positive changes in addressing the gender equity in the workplace, young women recognise there is still much more that needs to be done – and they expect to see action.

“The message from our future female leaders is clear: if corporates don’t fundamentally change their cultures to make their organisations genuinely attractive to young women, then this important talent group won’t join big companies or, if they do, they won’t stay.”

“Australia has one of the highest percentages of women gaining both undergraduate and post graduate degrees in the world, but we are losing the vast majority of these young women from the talent pipeline, because they can’t find employers who will support them in balancing home and career,” she said.

The interviewees highlighted a number of reasons that young women are not attracted to a career in large Australian organisations, including lack of flexibility, pay inequality and lack of career path certainty.

Chandra Clement, Managing Director and founder of One Legacy says, “We talk about the problems, but we identify very few solutions.”

“It’s just too easy for organisations to justify their current gender equity position through the use of charts and reports. The numbers can be made to do whatever they are needed to do.”
Similarly, Rebecca Mile, joint partner and chief operator at the Aera Foundation, says, “People celebrate when a woman makes it into a top position, rather than challenge the underlying attitudes that drive our thoughts on gender.”

The report lists a number of recommendations for business to help address these issues, including dealing with unconscious bias, with a number of the interviewees recommending blind recruiting recruitment practices, where names, ages and genders are blanked out on application forms.
The interviewees also highlighted the need for the broader business community to address gender stereotypes, which many believe start in our schools.

The interviewees all believe that women themselves need to be part of the solution and have the courage to stand-up and ask for equal treatment, without thinking they are asking for a ‘special favour’.

Jo Heighway Director and founder of ENGAGE Super Audits says, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you are not adequately represented, paid the same as your male counterpart, or have the same opportunities, it is not a request for special treatment but a demand for equal treatment,” she 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.