On the back of International Women’s Day on 8 March, it’s a great time to reflect on what people development leaders can do to bridge the gender divide in the corporate world. In this article, Lisa Coulson looks at the ways organisations can foster workplaces that address gender inequality at management level.
Statistical evidence shows we have a long way to go in seeing equal representation of both men and women in Australia’s boardrooms, senior leadership positions and parliaments. In the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global gender gap report 2014’, Australia ranks 24 out of 142 countries. By comparison, New Zealand comes in at number 13 and the Scandinavian countries round out positions 1 through 5.
It’s not through lack of trying that we are still seeing this inequality. Many legislative changes have been made over the years to try to even out the playing field. For example, in 1966 the public service removed the bar on married women, followed in 1972 by equal pay for women. Since then we have seen many pieces of legislation implemented in support of equality, including the Workplace Gender Equality Act of 2012. However, in the past 10 years the change has been marginal (AHRI International Women’s Day Breakfast in Melbourne).
In 2010, UN Women launched the Women’s Empowerment Principles. They guide organisations on how to empower women in the workplace. For instance, principle 4 emphasises the importance of training and professional development. This is where people development leaders can play a part in supporting change.
Susan Colantuono presented an exceptional TED Talk called ‘The career advice you probably didn’t get’. In it, she speaks about the lack of business, strategic and financial training given to women over their male counterparts. Like our male leaders, female leaders require training in areas such as:
- Business strategy
- Company finances
- Business writing
- Coaching and people management
Research has shown that a compelling business case can be made for gender diversity in the workplace leads. The following sources provide a great basis for training:
- The gender dividend: Making the business case for investing in women (Deloitte)
- Champions of gender equality: Female and male executives as leaders of gender change (Dr Jennifer de Vries, University of Melbourne)
- wgea.gov.au (Workplace Gender Equality Agency)
- weforum.org (World Economic Forum)
- Why is diversity important? (Business Case – Diversity Partners)
- Making the business case for gender equity (Slideshare)
So the jury is in: equal representation of women in management is good for the workplace, and good for business. Now it’s up to people development leaders to provide the leadership training and support that will make this business case a reality.