Is 50/50 Gender Equality at all Levels of Leadership a Realistic Goal for Australian Organisations?

More women on boards

More women in senior leadership roles

Equal pay for equal work

How long have we been having this same conversation?

Much is talked about the number and great debate is still had over the purpose and value of quotas when it comes to driving gender equality outcomes in business. So much time is spent on the outcome or the current result i.e. the number of women in leadership. Less is given to the reasons or perceived barriers that block their career progress. Frustrated with so much focus on the what and so little on the why, we decided to do some research of women in Australia to find out what they see as the major barriers to career progression (more on that next week). Today let’s look at the what.

Late last year the Workplace Gender Equality Agency released Australia’s gender equality scorecard for 2013-14. (https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/2013-14_summary_report_website.pdf )

What was so fantastic about this research was the broad focus on organisations across Australia and the large representation of Australian companies and employees, estimated to be one third of Australia’s total labour force.

The information within the report is rich and for the first time organisations have a benchmark at an industry and national level to compare their own gender scorecard against and we would encourage them to do so.

Some of the key insights and messages from the data

There are more men in the pipeline

Only 35.8 % of full- time workers are female (which represent 57.6% of the workforce by employment status).  This means that overall there is nearly 1 female for every 2 males working fulltime in an organisation. Whilst this overall number and gap closes when we include the part -time employment status the reality is that there are more men in the pipeline for leadership roles than women.

Whilst this representation is reflected in the lower leadership levels (39.8% of other managers are female as compared with 60.2% male), it changes as we climb the leadership ladder where women represent;

  • 31.7% Senior managers

  • 27.8% of Other executives / general managers

  • 26.1% of Key management personnel

  • 17.3% of CEO’s

The part time problem

Whilst there are some leadership roles that could be worked in a true part time capacity, the reality for most organisations and women is that this would not be an effective outcome or option for the organisation. There are a few scenarios where a C-Suite role has been delivered via job-sharing agreements (ie 2 women both working part time deliver the equivalent of 1 full time position) however this is more the exception than the rule.

15.3% of working women do so in a part time capacity as compared to 5.1% of men. Anecdotally in our experience the main drivers that keep women working part-time, as opposed to fulltime, is the lack of flexibility to work full time and support family demands in an effective way.

The pipeline shrinks – Women opt out of being an employee

32 per cent of Australian small businesses are run by women and the number is growing.

At least half the conversations I have with young women within our community (Young Professional Women Australia) talk to me about running their own business ‘some day’. While self-employment is not for everyone the amount of women, even within my own network, who have ‘opted out’ of a corporate career in favor of a more flexible opportunity such as consulting, working for a small start up or even starting their own small business has grown significantly.

As more women opt out, the pipeline of female talent progressing through the leadership ranks will also shrink posing significant challenges to organisational goals around gender diversity and leadership.

What is the answer?

If there was a simple one – we would not still be talking about it years after gender diversity and leadership became a priority.

Step 1 – Understand your pipeline

Australia’s gender equality scorecard for 2013-14 provide the opportunity for all organisations to compare themselves against the workforce and use it as a minimum benchmark.

  • Compare the proportion of women that work full time / part time and casual in your organisation against those in the scorecard.

  • Compare the proportion of women that hold leadership roles by level (ie manager, senior manager, other executive manager, key management personel etc) in your organisation against those in the scorecard and those in your industry.

Step 2 – Understand why

Start conversations with women and men in your organisation to understand the actual and perceived barriers to career progression in your organisation. Both are important, as the ability to remove barriers that are perceived as opposed to actual can be quick wins for all involved.  The actual barriers are where the real work and change begins but the first step toward achieving change is understanding the real barriers in the first place.

Over the past 2 months YPWA have been undertaking a study to explore the perceived barriers of career progression for women in Australia. Results from this study will be released at our annual conference celebrating International Women’s Day on the 6th March (Syd) and 12th March (Melb). More details are available at https://www.ypwa.com.au/#!events/c1vw1

Step 3 – Reframe part time

Today for many, work extends well beyond the traditional 9-5, Monday to Friday working week. With teams that transcend borders, clients that transact globally and customers who demand service 24/7, business is fast becoming a 24/7 requirement.  As organisations adjust both strategies and relationships with employees to meet the demands of this new world so too will the opportunity for organisations to offer new models of the working weeks.

Depending on the role and organisation, part time can easily be reframed to full time opportunities where 25/30 hours are designated core working hours each week , used to meet with clients, staff and colleagues. The balance (or remaining full time equivalent hours) are completed at points throughout the week (7 days not 5) in accordance with the employee’s personal demands.  This not only provides opportunities for female talent to operate in a fulltime equivalent capacity in some of the more senior leadership roles but also a likely side effect of enhanced productivity.

The theme of International Women’s Day is ‘Make it Happen’. For too long the conversation has focused on the numbers. It’s time to focus on the reasons organisations are not achieving the gender equality they aspire to and start the movement forward to removing both perceived and actual barriers.

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