The time for talking about gender equality and waiting for people to “get it” is over – real action is needed now, according to Helen Conway, director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA).
There is a limited window of opportunity to achieve gender equality before “gender fatigue” derails progress and “potentially mortally wound[s] the cause”, she told the Twentieth Annual Kingsley Laffer Memorial Lecture in Sydney last week.
While applauding the honesty of the Male Champions of Change – a group of corporate leaders who last year admitted that while they were taking steps toward gender equality, they were “far from the end state” – Conway questioned whether their phased approach to the task was appropriate.
“The fact is that gender equality in the workplace has been the subject of discussion for a very long time and there is broad acceptance of the case for change.
“We need action and we need it now. The time for talking is over. We simply can’t wait while people work through various stages of ‘getting it’.”
Conway believes there are three key steps for achieving change:
- Leadership – This is “without a doubt the most important driver of change”.
Each leader – including the board, CEO, executive team and senior managers – “must have a competency in managing diversity. While such a competency may come naturally to some, in most cases leaders will need specific training in this regard”.
“Each leader, at a minimum, must do three things – visibly present as a believer in, and advocate for, gender equality; be a role model; and set clear expectations with their direct reports in relation to gender-equality initiatives.”
- Focus – Align gender equality with business strategy and establish it as a business priority.
“This is an essential underpinning for successful gender equality initiatives. What these initiatives might be will differ from organisation to organisation. What is essential is that a detailed analysis is conducted to clearly identify the particular issues that need to be addressed to remove barriers to gender equality.”
- Accountability – “As with any business imperative, accountability is an essential part of making things happen.
“Accountability involves establishing clear action plans, measuring and transparently reporting outcomes and holding managers to account for achieving results.”
Conway says the most effective way to hold managers to account is to tie their remuneration to the results for which they are responsible.
On accountability, Conway says it is essential to be “constant and vigilant”.
“This will deal with the resistance to change often found in the ranks of middle management. This is emerging as a particular concern in relation to gender equality. Anecdotal evidence suggests some male middle managers are passively resisting initiatives underpinning targets relating to the appointment of women to management positions because they consider these initiatives to be a threat to them.”
The model outlined is “the sort… you would apply to any business initiative”, Conway says.
“The problem is… gender equality is not seen as a central business issue, so the usual disciplines that apply to ensure the achievement of business initiatives generally are not applied to gender equality.”
She draws a comparison to the approach taken towards improving safety performance in Australian industry, noting that: “The improvements speak for themselves. Perhaps there are some lessons here which could be applied to gender equality.”
Conway also outlined the reforms proposed in the recently introduced Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill.
The proposed legislation would amend the objects of the Act to include promoting equal remuneration between women and men; eliminating discrimination on the basis of gender in relation to family and caring responsibilities; and improving the quality and competitiveness of Australian business through the advancement of gender equality in employment and in the workplace.
It would also remove the current requirement for reporting organisations (private sector companies with 100+ employees) to develop workplace programs around gender diversity.
Instead, they must report against a set of gender equality indicators focussed on outcomes to be set by the Minister for the Status of Women (including gender composition of the workforce, equal remuneration, and availability of flexible work).
If an organisation fails to meet a minimum standard, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (the proposed new name for EOWA), will be required to provide advice and assistance. If the organisation fails to lift its performance over a two-year period without a reasonable excuse, it will be in breach of the Act and unable to engage in Federal Government procurement or receive certain grants.
Conway says the Agency will continue to be a “light touch” regulator and work cooperatively with organisations to help them achieve compliance.
But she says many workplace practices “represent stereotypes not compatible with how we live today”, and employers that ignore that reality “do so at their own peril”.
“It is always better to be ‘ahead of the pack’ rather than have change forced upon you in an unplanned way.”
Read Conway’s lecture or view the presentation here.
Source: hr daily
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