Is quota setting the way to achieve gender balance throughout Australian workplaces?
Two HR professionals weigh into the debate.
YES – Meryl Stanton PSM FAHRI, organisational psychologist, former Australian Public Service Agency head and former AHRI board member.
When I began work as a recruitment psychologist in the public sector in the 1970s, the employment world was changing fast.
A couple of years earlier, as a married woman, I could not have been employed, other than on a temporary basis, and even unmarried I would have been paid less than my male colleagues.
Nearly half a century ago, it seemed that women would soon be on an equal employment footing with men. The need some saw for EEO legislation, a decade or so later, was overly pessimistic, I thought.
“Attitudes are changing, if a little slowly,” I said at the time. A colleague’s words in response still ring in my ears: “I don’t care about attitudes; I want to change behaviour!”
She was absolutely right. Not that legislation has resulted in gender equity but it has certainly improved the balance, and we can only imagine the lack of progress had there been none.
We now know that diversity makes sound business sense. But very large numbers of Australian organisations have never come close to reasonable gender balance, let alone gender equity.
This time around, I am in support of measures such as published targets and/or quotas.
Attitude change, while assisted by exhortation and good intent, is just too slow. Australia must not waste another half a century. It is now time to force the desired behaviours where gender imbalance is clear and ongoing; only then might we change entrenched attitudes.
NO – Martine Harkin, partner at Leading Teams.
Gender balance is certainly needed in the workplace but quotas based on gender can avoid issues around behaviour and performance.
It would be unfortunate if companies use gender quotas to create an image of an organisation that has great gender balance. Appointments based on gender rather than merit can be viewed as an artificial change or token gesture unless conversations around performance and expectations take place.
Changes to organisational culture must be fostered by every member of that workplace for it to have a positive effect. A consistent commitment to an agreed behavioural framework will lead to an inclusive environment that values each individual and embraces their strengths.
People, irrespective of gender, want to be valued and respected in the workplace. Policies around rewards for great performance, engaging in open conversations about performance and addressing issues as they arise can help deal with deeper issues such as diversity.
For gender policies to work, men and women need to have an honest conversation about the behaviours and skills required for the team or organisation to be successful.
One way for organisations to then address the issue of merit versus quotas is to look at applicants’ skills and life experiences, as well as their behaviours and cultural fit rather than attempt to find a replica for the person they’re replacing.
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