Women in leadership - not just a women’s issue
Posted : Tuesday, April 17, 2012
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South Australia's CEOs will need to
take charge of removing roadblocks that prevent women from
participating fully in the workforce to address skills shortages
and boost their bottom line, a CEDA forum in Adelaide has
Speakers at the Women and Leadership
event emphasised that having women return to the workforce and
succeed in senior management could not simply be a "women's
The forum heard government and
business are adopting three main strategies to address the problem
of low female workforce participation in South Australia:
- Providing affordable, quality childcare to enrich the lives of
- Engaging CEOs to change workplace culture so that people who
take on caring roles continue to have meaningful careers.
- Implementing programs to mentor women towards management
positions and in non-traditional careers such as engineering.
Minister for Employment Participation and
Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare, Kate
Ellis said that while the issue of quality, accessible
and affordable childcare affected both men and women, it remained a
particularly important issue for women's participation in paid
Many myths surround affordability and
access to childcare, but families now spent less of their
disposable income on childcare - down to 7.5 per cent from 13 per
cent of disposable income in 2004 as the government had increased
the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, Ms Ellis
Contrary to stories circulating about
long waiting lists for childcare places, the number of childcare
places had increased by 36 per cent since 2006, with 500 new
services established in areas of demand in the past 12 months, she
"I'm proud of the fact that we have
doubled investment in childcare assistance. I'm not going to say
that we have the silver bullet that will make it easy for families
but any policy debate has to be based on facts,"she said.
She dismissed popular calls to make
childcare tax deductible and to subsidise nannies as poor policy,
arguing that these policies would leave most families worse off,
providing most benefit to high income earners who paid the highest
"If you asked just about any woman in
Australia if she wanted a nanny courtesy of the Australian
Government she'd probably say yes. In fact she'd probably say yes
whether she has children or not. But that is exactly the problem
with making vague political promises and not being upfront with
people about details - it sets unrealistic expectations," she
Recent improvements in childcare costs
and access had been matched by quality improvements in staff-child
ratios and the qualifications of childcare workers, she said.
"We have moved on from thinking that
childcare as pure babysitting - it is about a professional
workforce, working within educational frameworks and shaping the
lives and development outcomes of our kids," she said.
"The huge benefits that come with
women's increased participation in the workforce and the
educational benefits of child care mean that improving child care
affordability must be a priority for Government."
The forum also heard that a group of
South Australia's senior business leaders - the Chiefs for Gender
Equity roundtable - had been established to work with the Office
for Women to identify and remove the hidden barriers for women,
particularly in senior management. It brings together leaders
across sectors including engineering, mining, accountancy and law
to re-think organisational structures and ways of working that make
it difficult to juggle work and family.
Acting South Australian
Commissioner for Equal Opportunity, Anne
Burgess said engaging CEOs to change workplace culture to
ensure that men and women who care for children could have a
"serious career" was critical to boosting workforce
"We recognised that things wouldn't
change for women until they change for men," she said.
"We know that in South Australia we
have one of the highest levels of education for women but one of
the lowest female workforce participation rates."
"The CEOs are taking it (the
roundtable) very seriously because they know that it makes good
"We know that when women are in senior
leadership positions, the business's bottom line improves."
Elders, General Manager of
Commercial Operations, Miriam Silva said
South Australian businesses, such as Elders, were only just
beginning to address the gender imbalance in senior management in a
"In the past 10 years, South Australia
has had one of the lowest rates of participation for women in the
workforce compared to other states - about 1.5 to two per cent
behind other states," she said.
At Elders, while 35 per cent of the
3000 employees are women, most are at lower levels of pay and
responsibility, Ms Silva said.
"In terms of line management (at Elders) women are few and far
between," she said.
Elders had begun the process of
improving gender diversity under CEO Malcolm Jackman, establishing
a committee, a gender equity policy and promoting flexibility in
the workplace, she said.
But Ms Silva also said: "Having a
mentor to coach and to encourage women to apply for positions does
help with workforce participation."
"A woman will look at a position and
think 'I've only got 80 per cent of what they are looking for so I
won't apply'. A guy will look at it and say, 'I've got 30 per cent
of what they are looking for so I am going to apply'," she
Parsons Brinckerhoff, Regional
General Manager of engineering firm and Engineers Australia,
Chair Dr David Cruickshanks-Boyd said
improving gender equity was particularly important in engineering
where there was a strong demand for skilled employees.
Over the past 10 years, women have
accounted for 15 per cent of engineering students and only six per
cent of employed engineers. Dr Cruickshanks-Boyd said in his own
company there was only one woman on the Executive Director Team -
the Director of People.
"We have coalesced around the idea
that (gender diversity) is not only the right thing - it's the
smart thing in a business sense," he said. "We realised we were
drawing our senior managers from only half of the workforce - it
really hit home."
The company had initially established
a women's network with director-level sponsors but the "key
learning from year one is that men are not engaged in women's
issues," he said. This group has since been replaced with a
diversity council, sponsored by the Managing Director, which has
gathered metrics, implemented an accelerated development program
for women and promoted its flexible work policy, he said.
"We are seeing a much greater uptake
(of the flexible work arrangements) by men and women and we have
had a 50 per cent increase in the women returning from maternity
leave," Dr Cruickshanks-Boyd said.
Uplifted by this initial success, the
company is taking a more aggressive approach to involving women in
management, setting targets to have 15 per cent of women in the
directorate (up from five per cent) and 20 per cent in senior
management (up from 10 per cent) over the next two years, he
Having a strategy to promote gender
diversity in management that is owned by the Managing Director and
the Directorate is "the smart thing to do," he said.
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