Improving the drivers of diversity and equity

“Equality means business,” said Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Senior Adviser of Trade and International Affairs, Dr Imogen Reid.

Speaking in Canberra at CEDA’s Women in Leadership forum, Dr Reid referred to 2012 Grattan Institute estimates that a six per cent increase in Australia’s female participation rates (equal to Canada) will generate $25 billion extra in GDP. 

Dr Reid quoted some of the compelling evidence of success by women in leadership, showing strong associations between female representation on Boards and company performance. One Australian 2011 study showed, “Returns on sales 10 per cent higher; returns on invested capital 26 per cent higher.”

“Women’s participation in the workforce cannot be separated from labour supply decisions at the household level,” Dr Reid said. “Public debate currently focuses on increasing women’s participation, while not a lot is being done to encourage men to stay home,” she said

Dr Reid encouraged policies that supported employers to develop customised solutions that fit with their business and employees, rather than regulation.

Dr Reid referred to Iceland’s Halla Tómasdóttir who speaks of the decision to incorporate feminine values with a career in finance when she co-founded Iceland’s successful Audur Capital after feeling “a bit overwhelmed with testosterone” and “sameness” in financial services.

Quoting Halla Tómasdóttir, Dr Reid said, “The whole thing about the female trend is not about women being better than men – it’s actually about women being different, and bringing different values and different ways to the table.”

Department of Employment Secretary, Renée Leon, stressed the impact of gendered expectations of behaviour on women’s selection or advancement.

“Strong, confident women are seen as problems, while the same in men is seen as an advantage. Meanwhile, women who are nice and personable are not seen as competent,” she said.

Ms Leon cited multiple examples of gender bias affecting workplace behaviours, performance management, and opportunity, and emphasised the power of leaders to influence more gender-aware organisations. She cited working hours as one practical issue offering change opportunities. 

“What we need to do . . . is not treat workplace flexibility as a special arrangement for just a few women, but try to have the kind of attitude that means both women and men can have a balance between paid work and the rest of their lives.”

Telstra’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Troy Roderick cited three major tenets of success in fostering diversity and inclusion – that diversity initiatives fall away unless they are connected to the core Business Strategy.

“I despair that the work around diversity and inclusion is so often locked in Human Resources. It actually needs to be shared right across the whole organisation, linking being diverse and inclusive with the business objectives of the organisation,” Mr Roderick said.