Category Archives: Gender diversity

6 ways employers are raising the bar on gender equality

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2015 Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) citation holders are raising the bar when it comes to creating gender equal workplaces. Here are a few examples of how they’re doing it:

Tackling unconscious bias

Cars and IT: these two traditionally blokey areas come together at However the leadership team recognise the value of having an employee profile that reflects the diversity of their customer base. has embarked on a journey to promote gender equality within their organisation and industry. A key feature has been unconscious bias training for the exec and senior leadership teams, with a view to rolling it out across the whole organisation. The training has opened eyes about the subtle ways gender bias can creep in to the workplace and has sparked a new process for reviewing job advertisements to make them more appealing to women and men – for example highlighting opportunities for flexible work and equal opportunity objectives.

Removing return-to-work barriers

Leading organisations are bolstering their efforts to make it easier for women to return to work after having babies. Maternity leave has traditionally been a danger period for losing employees as they become disconnected from the workforce and struggle to find childcare or negotiate suitable work on their return, which may be part-time. Caltex Australia has moved into the third year of its innovative BabyCare program and recorded an increase from 80% to 100% of new mums returning to work after parental leave. The program provides a quarterly 3% bonus for the first two years to cover childcare costs, assistance to find suitable childcare and paid access to an emergency nanny service. While not every new parent in future may want to come back to work, removing financial and care-related barriers makes a big difference.

Getting flexible 

Momentum is building around flexible working, with the recognition that both women and men may have caring responsibilities or other interests while still being committed to their work. Some organisations have moved to ‘All roles flex’ models – such as Telstra – and others are actively promoting flexible work through manager training and internal communications including video and poster campaigns. Suncorp has introduced a range of flexible work arrangements to give people a say over when, where and how they work – with 84% of employees saying they are now working with a degree of flexibility.

Setting targets

More organisations are setting targets to drive action on gender equality within their workforce. Engineering and construction firm GHD operates in traditionally male-dominated industries. They have set a target of a 40% female workforce by 2020, with at least 30% of professional and technical roles held by women. The target isn’t about preferring one gender over another, but rather introducing systems such as balanced shortlists for internal and external recruitment that allow women’s merit to be revealed. Setting targets has already made a difference, with an increase in female leadership appointments over the last six months in the company’s Australian operations.

Dads are parents too 

Parental leave has traditionally been treated as women’s business, but leading employers are recognising that true gender equality means recognising fathers as parents too. This year, there have been moves by several organisations to expand and promote their parental leave programs for men – in particular to encourage men to take primary carers leave. This gives new dads hands-on time with their babies and allows partners to share caring responsibilities. Under Lend Lease’s parental leave arrangements, each parent is entitled to 18 weeks paid parental leave as a primary carer at any point in the first 52 weeks. If they both work for the organisation they can tag team their primary carers’ leave to help manage childcare.

Recognising domestic violence as a workplace issue

There is a growing recognition among employers that domestic violence impacts the workplace and that policies to support employees experiencing domestic violence can make an important difference to their lives. Origin Energy recently implemented domestic violence leave that is uncapped depending on individual circumstances and doesn’t reduce other leave entitlements.

Source: Workplace Gender Equality Agency

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Gender Equality in the Workplace: The Role of Paid Parental Leave

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recent article by senior Sydney Morning Herald writer and new mum, Jessica Irvine, sparked our interest.

In her piece, Jessica proposed that we cannot have true gender equality until we have true shared responsibility for raising children. She challenged the labels of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carer enshrined in the current Paid Parental Leave (PPL) legislation as one of the roots of the problem.  Perhaps more concerning is, that as a society, we don’t realise the unintended negative consequences to gender equality when we use the terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ care giver.

“In fact, our entire paid parental scheme is predicated on the idea that there should exist a ‘primary’ and therefore a ‘secondary’ care giver. Mums and dads are forced to decide in the first few weeks which will be which. The idea that duties should be shared equally from the start doesn’t even compute in the current system.”

Jessica Irvine, SMH

Over the years we’ve seen countless times the effect of being assigned ‘primary’ carer has on women, unfortunately, often to their career peril. Many feel they must accept this assumed ‘lead position’ or ‘centre controller’ because it will ensure their family stays just that – a family.

Granted, some women want to stay at home for as long or longer than their PPL permits but what of the women who want to return to work and really share the caring role with their spouse?  Many feel the pressure to stay at home – pressure that comes, in part, from a system designed to commit them to the role as the ‘primary’ carer – which can be permanently, for those who find breaking back in impossible down the track.

Current legislation allows the ‘primary carer’ to transfer their PPL entitlement to their partner if they meet the eligibility criteria. This still implies either one spouse/partner must be the primary carer. What’s more the ‘Dad and Partner Pay’ of 2 weeks paid leave to care for a child overtly implies that mum will be the ‘primary carer’ to take PPL – Dad, well, he’ll just take a couple of weeks off and be back at work! What stereotypes does this reinforce about men and women’s role raising children and the proportion of time men vs. women ‘should’ have off whilst raising a family. And what if you are in a gay relationship – two fathers or two mothers? It forces the couple to choose – one is more of a ‘real’ parent than the other.

To be eligible for Parental Leave Pay, you need to be the primary carer of a newborn or recently adopted child. The primary carer is the person who most meets the child’s physical needs. This is usually the birth mother of a newborn or the initial primary carer of an adopted child. You are considered to be the primary carer from birth, even if your child is in hospital.

Eligibility for Paid Parental Leave Pay, Centrelink

Ask any parent – raising a child is a blessing and a challenge. But consider that imposing one parent with the weighty label of ‘primary’ carer carries with it an assumed unequalness that can be (and more often than not is) interpreted as one parent having more responsibility (i.e. more tasks, more decision making authority, more sacrifice) and implies that the other ‘secondary’ carer is somehow less important or has a lesser role to play. Every able parent is equally responsible for the upbringing and well being of their child. Period.

What if PPL redefined all parents as ‘carers’ of their child rather than as ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ carer and what if they were equally encouraged to access paid parental leave within the first 12 months? How would that change the state of play in the culture of workplaces? How would it change the minds of men and women in a society that still pays women less for the same work and struggles to find female leaders?

Would parents feel more empowered to step up and be the mum or dad they want to be? Would women feel more empowered to make life and career choices that were important to them instead of feeling forced to make sacrifices (for stopping paid work) or carrying the guilt (for choosing to work)? We know from various studies that gender equality at work leads to a multitude of societal, economic and personal benefits. A report released last month by the McKinsey Global Institute highlights this fact blatantly: “If every country saw women reach parity with men on workforce participation, global GDP would increase $28 trillion”.  And this: “More than half (54%) of the potential increase in GDP can come from increasing women’s workforce participation.”

There is a very plain bias here and one we’d like to see change before the next round of PPL legislation is enacted, for the sake of all Australians – this generation and those to come.  The inequalities at work (we still have a 18% gender pay gap in Australia) and home (women do 2.5 times more unpaid work than men) highlight why we need to address inequality at all levels of society. We need to discourage gender-based assumptions in every nook and cranny we can – from the laws we make to the colour of socks we feel we ‘ought’ to buy our new born. As my 4 year old said this morning: “some kids think blue is for boys and pink is for girls but I like blue and all colours are for everyone”.

In summary, and put simply, we propose the Government remove all gender references from the new Paid Parental Leave legislation. ‘Either parent/carer’ will suffice. Change starts with the individual, but when we have laws that reflect true equality (both parents, without bias, playing an equally active and important role as both carer and worker), we start to inspire and encourage every parent, working or not, to play a role in raising the next generation – equally. After all, it takes village to raise a child doesn’t it?

By: Emma Walsh

First published by Women’s Agenda


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THE VFAIR for Australia’s Talented Career Women

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This coming week the Workplace Gender Equality Agency is participating in the CareerOne VFAIR for women. The Agency will host a virtual information stand featuring a number of inspiring and educational speakers to engage and inform women about gender equality issues in the workplace.

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Strategy key to improving workplace gender equality

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A comprehensive strategy is key to achieving workplace gender equality, but knowing where to get started is a common obstacle to developing one, according to two experts.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has developed a roadmap that tracks organisations’ gender equality progress through six phases, say Dr Heidi Sundin and Emily Cappas, from the Agency’s education and innovation division.

“The first phase is the avoiding phase, and we’ve labelled that ‘zero’ because essentially that means that either gender equality is not on the radar of the organisation or, if it is, the organisation has determined that that’s not something they see as a priority or want to take action on,” they told a recent HR Daily Premium webcast.

The remaining five phases comprise:

    1. Compliant – Organisations report to the WGEA and comply with various pieces of legislation in relate to discrimination, sex-based harassment, etc;
    2. Programmatic – Organisations have lots of programs that drive gender equality, such as return-to-work or flexible work schemes but no overarching strategy;
    3. Strategic – Organisations have a gender equality strategy that is aligned with their business strategy and has specific timeframes and resources allocated to it;
    4. Integrated – Organisations have a strategy and are starting to put the infrastructure, policies, and procedures in place to support it;
    5. Sustainable – Organisations culturally embed gender equality into everyday decisions and activities.

For employers at the beginning of their gender equality journey, Sundin and Cappas recommend starting in either the compliance or strategic phase.

“Many of our organisations… will be reporting to the [WGEA] and that’s a great place to start, because through that process they’ll have a systematic review across six gender equality indicators on a whole range of gender equality reporting matters, so you’d be able to get a really good picture as to where you are and, with the benchmark data, that would also give you a picture of how you’re performing against your industry and against organisations overall,” they say.

“We also know that some organisations do want to move more quickly along the gender equality journey, and so for them we’d recommend starting out with a gender equality strategy and jumping straight into the strategic phase.”

While organisations in the programmatic phase have “done a lot of hard yards”, Sundin and Cappas advise against starting here because these companies still need to consolidate their activities under a strategy.

“Then [they must] undertake an assessment to see whether or not those are the right priorities [and] whether or not they need to be re-focused and investment directed into other areas to achieve gender equality more quickly.”

How to plot your organisation’s progress

Employers should assess their organisation against 12 areas to determine where they sit on the gender equality roadmap, say Sundin and Cappas.

“These are what we see at the [WGEA] as the 12 areas of gender equality that really need to be thought through systematically to again understand where you are and where you want to go. These do relate to reporting matters and also to the Employer of Choice for Gender Equality criteria,” they say.

“These 12 areas are: stakeholder engagement; leadership accountability; strategy and business case; measurement and reporting systems; policies and processes; supply chain; gender composition; gender pay equity; flexibility; talent pipeline; leader and manager capability; and a gender inclusive culture.”

Stakeholder communication and engagement, for example, pertains to any groups of individuals with an interest in or ability to influence gender equality in an organisation.

“The question is here, where is your organisation in terms of engaging all of those different stakeholders? Are you in phase zero, one, two, three, four or five? So, for example, are you in the compliance phase where your organisation sees government or regulators as the key stakeholders because of their role in gender equality?” they say.

“Are you more in the strategic phase where you identify all of the stakeholders who play a role and engage those stakeholders?”

Plotting this out is a subjective process but that in itself makes it a useful conversational device, say Sundin and Cappas.

“Getting people to put down what their views are on this can really help to uncover views that… you may not have been aware of… before and it can really get the conversation starting in areas you might not have realised are important,” they say.

“We would recommend using it as a conversation tool and potentially surveying different stakeholders within the organisation to understand how they see the position of the organisation in each of those 12 areas.

“You may want to also present some sort of summary-of-findings report to the management team to get them on board with where the key areas for development are and what you key strength areas are.”

After the “diagnosis phase” is done, organisations can use the information it reveals about their priorities and strengths to inform their workplace gender equality strategy, say Sundin and Cappas.

Watch the full presentation here for more tips for advancing your organisation’s workplace gender equality efforts. (HR Daily Premium content – upgrade here for access).

Source: HR Daily

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Fostering women leaders: A fitness test for your top team

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Posing five questions can help start a challenging management conversation

The challenges are well known: women in business continue to face a formidable gender gap for senior-leadership positions.1 Moreover, there are fewer and fewer women at each step along the path to the C-suite, although they represent a majority of entry-level employees at Fortune 500 companies and outnumber men in college-graduation rates.2 Increasingly, the barriers too are well known: a mix of cultural factors, ingrained mind-sets, and stubborn forms of behavior, including a tendency to tap a much narrower band of women leaders than is possible given the available talent pool.

Much has been written about the nature of the challenges.3 I want to focus on what companies can do to take action. In this article, I’ve distilled some forward-leaning practices into five questions that can serve as a fitness test for your top team. In my experience, an organization that is making progress on such issues tends to explore them in concert. At the very least, these questions can help generate the kinds of challenging conversations that executive teams around the world should be having. The stakes are too high not to have them. As I heard the CEO of a US healthcare company say recently, “The business case is simple: my company needs the best talent. Why would I handicap that by 50 percent?”

1. Where are the women in our talent pipeline?

Most senior executives know intuitively how many women do (or don’t) hold top-leadership roles at their companies. But in the United States, surprisingly few of them keep precise track of how women do (or don’t) move through their talent pipelines—from entry all the way up to the top-executive ranks.

A clear picture is important. Because such pipelines tend to be unique, “default” solutions, though well-intentioned, can miss the mark; for instance, ramping up a recruitment drive for women won’t help an organization struggling to retain female vice presidents. In the US healthcare industry, women make up more than 75 percent of the entry labor force but hold fewer than one-third of the most senior positions.4 Other organizations struggle with recruitment. In US high-tech companies, it is not unusual for women to make up just 30 percent of the entry ranks. One likely factor: the decline in the number of female computer-science college undergraduates. From 2000 to 2011, the proportion of women earning computer-science degrees in the United States sank from 28 percent of the total to 18 percent.5

How to gather pipeline information is no secret, and what to do with it shouldn’t be either. Outcome metrics ought to be reviewed annually, and leading indicators (such as employee sentiment and promotion trends) should be examined during quarterly business reviews. All of these metrics must be considered elements of an ongoing management conversation.

Once the pipeline is visible, a related conversation should happen about the distribution of women’s roles—in part to get a better sense of the career barriers they face. For example, in the United States, about two-thirds of women in Fortune 500 companies begin their careers in line (as opposed to support-staff) roles. Yet the figures at the top are reversed: roughly two-thirds of the women in the C-suite occupy human resources, marketing, or other support positions. Whether such patterns are a problem varies by organization; awareness is the first step toward understanding if they are.

A major consumer-goods company, for example, identified 500 pivotal roles across the organization. For each of them, it wants to have a succession plan five candidates deep (a “hit by a bus” plan). The company encourages the creation of diverse slates of candidates on these lists and tracks outcomes over time to ensure that it is making progress on its diversity goals, including the appointment of enough women to leadership roles. Interestingly, the effort is considered a talent initiative, not a women’s initiative—a distinction that models gender-neutral behavior in promotion decisions.

Finally, companies should consider the benefits of transparency: the act of publicly sharing data on gender diversity sends staff and external parties alike a clear message that the status quo is insufficient. In recent months, several companies (including eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo!) have taken this step. By doing so, they have initiated a pragmatic conversation about what organizations can do to change.

2. What skills are we helping women build?

Many women’s programs focus on convening, creating, and broadening networks. While these are important investments, they are insufficient. Companies should also instill the capabilities women need to thrive. Some of the most important are resilience, grit, and confidence.

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties—a form of toughness. Grit is resolve, courage, and strength of character. Confidence is a level of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of your own abilities or qualities. In business settings, resilience allows us to get up after making a mistake or encountering a challenge, grit allows us to push through walls and rise above challenges, and confidence helps transform challenging experiences into greater self-assurance, not self-doubt.

In our 2012 interviews with 250 high-ranking women executives, we found that they thought the top attributes of their own success were resilience and grit, which ranked higher than more obvious factors, such as a “results orientation.” We also heard moving stories about how perseverance through challenging circumstances can shape a woman’s ability to lead. A former plant manager, for example, described the aftermath of an accident and her effort (in the middle of the night) to understand the circumstances in which it occurred, to ensure the workers’ safety, and to communicate with the press. Years later, this woman—now a senior executive at the company—cites the experience as a turning point in her career because it gave her confidence at a moment of failure and crisis.

Academic work highlights the importance of determination, as well. The University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Lee Duckworth found that among public-school students in Chicago, those with more grit were significantly more likely to graduate.6 Similarly, research by Stanford’s Carol Dweck finds that students are more successful when they are praised and recognized for their contributions, hard work, practice, and effort—in short, for a mind-set of growth. Such a mind-set is valuable in corporate environments too, for it suggests that women can shape (and reshape) their own advancement and success. The good news is that these capabilities are coachable and that educational innovation (online, video, and experiential learning, for example) ought to help. Leaders should encourage experimentation to accelerate progress.

3. Do we provide sponsors along with role models?

Intuitively, we know that seeing female role models makes a huge difference to younger women. Research confirms this intuition. For example, a 2012 study found that young Indian girls living in villages with a stronger representation of women in public leadership roles were significantly more likely to see themselves as future leaders.7 The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media also highlights the influence that visible female role models (or the lack of them) can have on the way girls perceive their future possibilities. (For more, see Geena Davis’s essay, “Addressing unconscious bias,” forthcoming on

To go further, companies should focus on sponsorship, including the creation of opportunities. In leading companies, formal sponsorship programs help fill the opportunity gap by encouraging women to set higher aspirations and by finding ways to open doors for them.8 In our survey of female leaders, nearly 60 percent of them said that if they could relive their careers, they would have more sponsors.

Sponsorship is an area where men can play a huge role. In fact, it is one of the most basic commitments male leaders can make to help increase the number of talented women in their organizations. A simple question to ask men in senior roles is this: How many of you sponsor at least one woman? At the same time, of course, ask the women in leadership positions what they are doing to share their stories and to make themselves more visible role models for women throughout the ranks. Sponsorship programs with tangible goals can be highly effective. At eBay, for example, senior vice presidents and vice presidents set a goal of developing top-talent women by sponsoring five of them. Such efforts have helped the company more than double the number of women in leadership roles since 2010.9

4. Are we rooting out unconscious biases?

One of the biggest challenges exists squarely in the heads of employees: the unconscious biases that shadow women throughout their careers and can set them up for failure.10 Held by men and women alike, these biases take many forms.

Smart companies work hard to make unconscious biases more conscious and then to root them out so that they don’t affect the culture in wide-ranging and unhelpful ways. Actions include training, surveys (to gain insights), and policy remedies that create a more level playing field. For example:

  • Denise Russell Fleming, a vice president at BAE Systems, recently told the Wall Street Journal about work the company is doing to train managers and executives to overcome bias. The effort is designed to weed out even seemingly innocuous behavior, such as overlooking introverts during meetings, that can put women at a disadvantage. 11
  • To measure the progress of the eBay Women’s Initiative Network, the company uses a survey that highlights areas of concern for all employees—such as promotions, hiring, challenging assignments, and the visibility of job opportunities. In addition to focusing on women in leadership, the company is working to improve its culture more broadly.
  • When George Halvorson was chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, he instituted a “rule of two” to encourage diversity and help avoid the “just like me” bias that’s prevalent in many promotion decisions. For appointments at the VP level and above, Halvorson encouraged leaders to bring three candidates, and no more than two of them could have a similar demographic profile—for example, sex or race. (For more, see “Lessons from a veteran diversity advocate,” an interview with George Halvorson, forthcoming on
  • Last year, Google—where men make up 83 percent of all engineering employees and 70 percent of the total population—initiated diversity-training workshops based on academic research into unconscious bias. While reversing biases is difficult, there have been early success indicators in discussions about promotion and in improved awareness.12

5. How much are our policies helping?

Although the most stubborn barriers are inside the heads of employees, this isn’t to say that companies have exhausted the potential of corporate policy to effect change. Child-leave policies are one area ripe for improvement: some US companies are raising the number of weeks for maternity leave, thus resembling international norms more closely.13 Both Google and Yahoo! increased the number of days they allow for child leave. Other companies are more publicly encouraging men to take paternity leave—a move that helps chip away at prevalent gender norms about caregiving. Indeed, in one women’s leadership workshop I attended, the highest-rated recommendation was to make paternity leave mandatory for men so that they could more fully take part in raising kids and reduce the perception that child care is a “women’s issue.” Such ideas are intriguing, as they suggest tangible ways a company’s policies can affect the mind-sets of employees.

Part-time or other flexible work policies are a sore spot; they look great on paper, but few employees take advantage of them: McKinsey research has found that less than 1 percent of men or women did so at companies offering such options at the executive level. Clearly, policies that aren’t much used are great opportunities for management discussions, and while these conversations can be uncomfortable, they can also lead to new ways of working. (For example, see “Championing gender equality in Australia,” forthcoming on

Uncomfortable conversations are often necessary to identify the pragmatic actions that can improve a company’s odds of developing women leaders. The good news is that the rewards—a stronger workforce that fully taps the available talent across the economy—are well worth it. The power to change and to keep moving forward lies in our hands.

By: Lareina Yee

Source: McKinsey&Company


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