International Women's Day has now come and gone and the theme of the year - "Pledge for Parity" - dominated mainstream media for at least a week causing us to stop and reflect on the issues that are significant, ongoing and multifaceted. Whilst at a glance the hype seems to be "all about women", it's actually about building better, more competitive and sustainable organisations and economies. 

The hard data 

Around the developed world females comprise the majority of university graduates yet  50% of global companies have no (as in zero) female top executives and less than 5% of global compa....  In Australia, Women's Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)  data shows female CEOs make up less than 5% of CEOs in ASX 200 companies and 90% of CEOs are male in reporting organisations with over 100 employees.

Further, according to ABS data the non managerial employee pay gap is approximately 15% and the WGEA data indicates the pay gap doubles to almost 30% at managerial level albeit that again this data only relates to private companies with over 100 employees who have to report - it's probably worse.

The heartening data - diversity as a competitive advantage

According to research undertaken by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, an organisation with 30% female leaders could add up to 6% to its net margin compared to if it had no female leaders.

Similarly, a Boston Trading Platform Quantopian undertook research of 80 female CEOs between 2002 to 2014 and found females CEOs produced equity returns of 226% compared to those of their male counterparts. Whilst these statistics are certainly demonstrative of the benefits of female CEOs, the challenge in gathering such data in Australia seems to lie in the limited survey sample we have available.

What has increasingly been accepted both in Australia and around the world is the impact female leaders have on organisational effectiveness, providing a significant and sustainable competitive advantage where diversity is embraced including:

  • better people management, decreased absenteeism, turnover and claims relating to discrimination and sexual harassment
  • improved morale - interestingly, when people feel respected and included, they are better placed to make a meaningful contribution
  • creativity, diversity of thought and playing to the strengths of a diverse workforce creates a distinct competitive advantage to not only keep up with the pace of change but to thrive in the age of innovation.  

Even in this week's HR Daily news we read very compelling research by Hays Group finding "women score higher than men on all emotional intelligence competencies, such as adaptability, coaching and mentoring, conflict management, empathy, influence, organisational awareness and teamwork. On the one remaining competency, emotional self-control, no gender differences were found." 

We climbed the corporate ladder but it's time to send down an elevator

As women in leadership positions, if we are to make progress, this simply has to be the way we view the world. Only good can come from from helping female talent and the next generation of female leaders come through, even if the road they take is easier than those who came before them.  There is nothing to be gained from making life hard for each other.

It was pleasing to read last week the new academic analysis released by WGEA indicating there is a strong connection between the reduction of gender pay gaps on more gender balanced board.  Specifically, the research revealed a 6.3 % decrease in the manager pay gap for boards with a 50:50 gender balance. Organisation with more gender balanced boards were also considered fairer overall with better internal HR strategies, a greater awareness of gender and potentially stronger policies in place to promote gender equality.

Although I have long advocated for carrot over stick, inspiring engagement, influence and buy in over compliance and stressed the culture of an organisation will eat compliance for breakfast, given we are 117 years from gender parity at current rates - a circuit breaker is needed.  Diversity must be on the agenda, the issues must be systematically identified and addressed, individual leaders must be both accountable and incentivised to achieve transformational change.

Strategies, objectives and incentives

If organisations are serious about putting this issue on the agenda, diversity and inclusiveness must be absolutely and unequivocally embraced from the very top and organisational strategies and objectives must not only contain motherhoood statements but methodically filter down to business plans, contracts, policies, procedures, job description, performance objective, KPIs and incentive schemes. 

Like for Like Comparisons

Discrepancies are blatantly apparent and known to exist based even on the different approach of male and female candidates in applying for jobs with male graduates, for example, being more likely to negotiate higher starting salaries. If we are serious about parity, "like for like" comparisons must be made, discrepancies identified and self corrected so gaps are sealed at entry level and contemplated at all stages of advancement.

A global organisation I have worked with recently undertook this process and also changed the jobs advertisements and promotional material to remove absolute requirements, for example, "must have 10 years experience" as they found male employees with 7 years experience were more likely to apply for the role than female employees with 9.5 years experience who would disqualify themselves from application.  

Merit Based Selection Criteria

Given we do not appear to have made any significant headway on the "hard data", it appears unconscious bias may still hide behind the veil of meritocracy and perpetuate the status quo. "Objective selection criteria" must be closely scrutinised for unconscious bias and indirect discrimination.  Organisation should stop and consider whether "essential criteria" are in fact inherent requirements of the role. For example, does the next incumbent of the role in [insert traditionally male dominated profession/ occupation] absolutely have to have 20 years of experience in said profession/occupation as by such insistence you will invariably reduce your pool of female talent to virtual non existence.

Indeed, further research recently released by Mind Group supports this very contention on why there are so few CEO's in Australia, confirming CEO stereotypes both reflect and cause gender imbalance.

Flexibility for all

As the world of work is changing with all employees increasingly working virtually or remotely, flexible work arrangements are increasingly becoming "reasonable adjustments" to be accommodated without "unjustifiable hardship". Such adjustments should however be openly and without reservation available to all employees who choose to take on caring roles. If we are going to see an increase of female leaders, they need to be enabled in the same way their male counterparts are, and unless the negative stigma attached to males taking leave and assuming caring and domestic roles improves, women will always be at a disadvantage trying to "do it all" while their male counterparts have the benefit of housewives looking after their children, cooking, washing and cleaning. 

Step into the elevator and seize the moment!

To the next generation of female talent we say - it's time to seize the moment, muster up the courage, step in and take the ride in the elevator. It won't be perfect, it won't be easy and even the destination will have its ups and downs - but it will be worth it! 

This content is general commentary and opinion of the writer provided for information and interest only. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and it does not constitute and must not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers should obtain specific advice relating to their particular circumstances 

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