Workplace gender equality: the state of play


Last night I gave an International Women’s Day presentation to a forum in Melbourne.

I spoke on what’s been happening in the gender equity area since AHRI joined with UN Women and Westpac in 2011 to hold a high-level HR Gender Summit.

Don’t be concerned if you missed that summit.  It was an invitation-only event held in Sydney for the leading HR directors from the big end of town. It went very well with almost all the invited companies participating.

One curious thing, though.  Many of the top HR people are men and that’s who we invited, so the invitation list was male by a slim majority.  What happened, however, was that a number of the invited parties sent a high-level female report, thinking they were doing the right thing.  That was better than not coming at all but we were expecting a large male attendance, and we ended up with a majority female attendance.

The lesson I took from that turn of events was that men still largely see gender equity as a female affair. They realise they need to take an interest because gender equity is now a KPI for many of the CEOs in the top companies but it’s not taken seriously as an issue that affects men.

I would suggest, with respect, that such a view misses the point. Gender equity is about the two sexes, men and women.

Getting back to my presentation last night, I was able to report a number of developments since the 2011 summit. AHRI had written letters jointly with UN Women informing all federal MPs and senators of the summit recommendations.  Some action has since been taken on childcare with a 50% rebate now available for out of pocket expenses (up from 30%), the ASX guidelines on reporting have taken effect and had an impact, and the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 was passed through the parliament by the slimmest margin, setting up a new workplace gender agency and requiring companies with 100 or more employees to report annually on gender equality.

I also reported that a robust debate continues in the public arena on a number of gender related matters, particularly the merits or otherwise of quotas on female executive and board representation, and the purported pervasiveness of the glass ceiling.

Quotas continue to be divisive, of course, because the merit question prevails and many women don’t want to win token appointments.  While accepting that reality, I am also sympathetic to the line taken by people such as former US President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Maureen who asserts somewhat mischievously but not without truth that she “will feel equality has arrived when we can elect to office women who are as incompetent as some of the men who are already there”.

So the question is plainly vexed, especially when a recent Reserve Bank memo called for an “aspirational target of 40% of women in senior positions”, and last week the highly respected investment banker and board chairman Peter Hunt stated unapologetically that there will only be change “if there is compulsion”.

Both of those statements came from male sources, which is why they were noticed and why attacks against them were relatively muted, though the distinguished ANU Professor Helen Hughes made no bones about dissenting in the strongest terms: “This sort of affirmative action ultimately hurts the intended beneficiaries”, she said.

I also took up the issue of the glass ceiling.  As a female CEO myself, it’s an issue that interests me.  I’m aware that Janet Albrechtsen is not to everyone’s taste but I thought she made a sound point in a recent column when she wrote the following:

“Social engineers assume most women want the top jobs. Yet many women consciously choose to leave work for the exhausting, chaotic, frustrating, elating, magical job of rearing children … research by prominent British sociologist Catherine Hakim reveals that for every woman who regards work as the centrepiece of their lives, there are three men.”

Her conclusion therefore is that men and women are not competing in equal numbers. I can say from my own friends and associates that I am readily able to identify with the Hakim research finding.  The women I’m thinking of very much want to work and they want satisfying jobs, but they don’t necessarily want the burden and responsibility that go with the top jobs.

The other reason it makes sense to me is that I also know many men who are similarly placed.  While they might be ambitious, it is not ambition for the top jobs but for work that gives them satisfaction and puts food on the table.

It’s too easy to draw sweeping conclusions on flimsy evidence, and we are all prone to do it. The workplace gender equality debate needs to embrace the real aspirations and desires of women and men, and not just those who are intent on a place in the C-suite.

Lyn Goodear is the chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute

 

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Max Underhill
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Max Underhill

We undertook a comprehensive review of the competence levels for a retail operation executive team. This study indicated only 2 of the 19 executives were at the required level of expertise i.e. 19 were not and a number were so far under that they were beyond feasible development. A US Women in Business organization asked us to re look at the “case study” from a women in business perspective. Firstly only 3 of the nineteen were female and this was a low representation in an industry that would have a dominance of women at the lower levels. Secondly of the… Read more »

Gerardo Ferreyra Orellano
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Gerardo Ferreyra Orellano

You said: Many of the top HR people are men and that’s who we invited, so the invitation list was male by a slim majority. Very interesting point of the view; I am agree with in some part of your discussion. However according my understanding here the theory and debate are related therefore for some opinions such as:Sigmund Freud;in his book The Ego and The Id that Freud published what has become the first great theory of psychology. In proposing two psychological entities: our animal selves, in the form of the id, and our social selves, the ego and super-ego,… Read more »

Jennifer Morris
Guest
Jennifer Morris

Its little wonder that we have these outcomes….women are sensible and make subjectively rational decisions to opt out of the toxicity of ‘live to work’ cultures. Surely we should be looking at the reasons talented women don’t aspire to the C suite. It’s real culture change that is needed. Women need to hear how other women have successfully navigated their careers without losing their integrity. We need more effective female role models and gender balanced executive teams to help women find their own authentic leadership style.

Narelle Ashcroft
Guest
Narelle Ashcroft

Well done Lyn for providing information and most importantly thought provoking discussion points. I found this forum topic interesting and revealing; however aside from the board room debate can I comment on diversity in smaller organisations? Larger global organisations in my experience offer more diversity in all areas. How can we encourage diversity in smaller organisations? How can we encourage it within unionised industries such as Construction? Having a 40% women workforce is impossible in some of these industries at all levels. How do these smaller organisations that are industry specific cope with diversity in all areas? Obviously they can… Read more »

Robert Redding
Guest
Robert Redding

It appears that political correctness and gender equality issues in particular have become an emotional war for many “corporate” women (and men). I speak to many talented and affected women in my practice every day to this extent. I also, by the way for context, believe that there needs to be equality amongst all people for us to move collectively to broader peaceful ends. I think however that the definition of equality has become somewhat confused – the article above bears this out in a way when on one side there is “current view” pressure/Equality Acts to do one thing… Read more »

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Workplace gender equality: the state of play


Last night I gave an International Women’s Day presentation to a forum in Melbourne.

I spoke on what’s been happening in the gender equity area since AHRI joined with UN Women and Westpac in 2011 to hold a high-level HR Gender Summit.

Don’t be concerned if you missed that summit.  It was an invitation-only event held in Sydney for the leading HR directors from the big end of town. It went very well with almost all the invited companies participating.

One curious thing, though.  Many of the top HR people are men and that’s who we invited, so the invitation list was male by a slim majority.  What happened, however, was that a number of the invited parties sent a high-level female report, thinking they were doing the right thing.  That was better than not coming at all but we were expecting a large male attendance, and we ended up with a majority female attendance.

The lesson I took from that turn of events was that men still largely see gender equity as a female affair. They realise they need to take an interest because gender equity is now a KPI for many of the CEOs in the top companies but it’s not taken seriously as an issue that affects men.

I would suggest, with respect, that such a view misses the point. Gender equity is about the two sexes, men and women.

Getting back to my presentation last night, I was able to report a number of developments since the 2011 summit. AHRI had written letters jointly with UN Women informing all federal MPs and senators of the summit recommendations.  Some action has since been taken on childcare with a 50% rebate now available for out of pocket expenses (up from 30%), the ASX guidelines on reporting have taken effect and had an impact, and the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 was passed through the parliament by the slimmest margin, setting up a new workplace gender agency and requiring companies with 100 or more employees to report annually on gender equality.

I also reported that a robust debate continues in the public arena on a number of gender related matters, particularly the merits or otherwise of quotas on female executive and board representation, and the purported pervasiveness of the glass ceiling.

Quotas continue to be divisive, of course, because the merit question prevails and many women don’t want to win token appointments.  While accepting that reality, I am also sympathetic to the line taken by people such as former US President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Maureen who asserts somewhat mischievously but not without truth that she “will feel equality has arrived when we can elect to office women who are as incompetent as some of the men who are already there”.

So the question is plainly vexed, especially when a recent Reserve Bank memo called for an “aspirational target of 40% of women in senior positions”, and last week the highly respected investment banker and board chairman Peter Hunt stated unapologetically that there will only be change “if there is compulsion”.

Both of those statements came from male sources, which is why they were noticed and why attacks against them were relatively muted, though the distinguished ANU Professor Helen Hughes made no bones about dissenting in the strongest terms: “This sort of affirmative action ultimately hurts the intended beneficiaries”, she said.

I also took up the issue of the glass ceiling.  As a female CEO myself, it’s an issue that interests me.  I’m aware that Janet Albrechtsen is not to everyone’s taste but I thought she made a sound point in a recent column when she wrote the following:

“Social engineers assume most women want the top jobs. Yet many women consciously choose to leave work for the exhausting, chaotic, frustrating, elating, magical job of rearing children … research by prominent British sociologist Catherine Hakim reveals that for every woman who regards work as the centrepiece of their lives, there are three men.”

Her conclusion therefore is that men and women are not competing in equal numbers. I can say from my own friends and associates that I am readily able to identify with the Hakim research finding.  The women I’m thinking of very much want to work and they want satisfying jobs, but they don’t necessarily want the burden and responsibility that go with the top jobs.

The other reason it makes sense to me is that I also know many men who are similarly placed.  While they might be ambitious, it is not ambition for the top jobs but for work that gives them satisfaction and puts food on the table.

It’s too easy to draw sweeping conclusions on flimsy evidence, and we are all prone to do it. The workplace gender equality debate needs to embrace the real aspirations and desires of women and men, and not just those who are intent on a place in the C-suite.

Lyn Goodear is the chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute

 

7
Leave a reply

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Max Underhill
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Max Underhill

We undertook a comprehensive review of the competence levels for a retail operation executive team. This study indicated only 2 of the 19 executives were at the required level of expertise i.e. 19 were not and a number were so far under that they were beyond feasible development. A US Women in Business organization asked us to re look at the “case study” from a women in business perspective. Firstly only 3 of the nineteen were female and this was a low representation in an industry that would have a dominance of women at the lower levels. Secondly of the… Read more »

Gerardo Ferreyra Orellano
Guest
Gerardo Ferreyra Orellano

You said: Many of the top HR people are men and that’s who we invited, so the invitation list was male by a slim majority. Very interesting point of the view; I am agree with in some part of your discussion. However according my understanding here the theory and debate are related therefore for some opinions such as:Sigmund Freud;in his book The Ego and The Id that Freud published what has become the first great theory of psychology. In proposing two psychological entities: our animal selves, in the form of the id, and our social selves, the ego and super-ego,… Read more »

Jennifer Morris
Guest
Jennifer Morris

Its little wonder that we have these outcomes….women are sensible and make subjectively rational decisions to opt out of the toxicity of ‘live to work’ cultures. Surely we should be looking at the reasons talented women don’t aspire to the C suite. It’s real culture change that is needed. Women need to hear how other women have successfully navigated their careers without losing their integrity. We need more effective female role models and gender balanced executive teams to help women find their own authentic leadership style.

Narelle Ashcroft
Guest
Narelle Ashcroft

Well done Lyn for providing information and most importantly thought provoking discussion points. I found this forum topic interesting and revealing; however aside from the board room debate can I comment on diversity in smaller organisations? Larger global organisations in my experience offer more diversity in all areas. How can we encourage diversity in smaller organisations? How can we encourage it within unionised industries such as Construction? Having a 40% women workforce is impossible in some of these industries at all levels. How do these smaller organisations that are industry specific cope with diversity in all areas? Obviously they can… Read more »

Robert Redding
Guest
Robert Redding

It appears that political correctness and gender equality issues in particular have become an emotional war for many “corporate” women (and men). I speak to many talented and affected women in my practice every day to this extent. I also, by the way for context, believe that there needs to be equality amongst all people for us to move collectively to broader peaceful ends. I think however that the definition of equality has become somewhat confused – the article above bears this out in a way when on one side there is “current view” pressure/Equality Acts to do one thing… Read more »

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