4 panelists. 33 tables. 400 guests. The most anticipated annual event for anyone with their finger on the pulse regarding gender equality in the workplace.
The third annual Women in Leadership panel begins in the Ivy Ballroom as the starters are served and the clink of wine glasses is hushed as Claire Braund, our chairwoman for the event, introduces the panellists; Catherine Fox, journalist and former Financial Review columnist, Jayne Hrdlicka, CEO of Jetstar Group, and Tim Reardon, Secretary of Transport for NSW.
Obviously, diversity encompasses more than just gender, but the lunch’s focus, in conjunction with the Women in Leadership round tables and white papers, is focusing on the gender imbalance found in more senior roles. Despite the work put in and discoveries made since the WIL inception in 2014, the lack of progress made is still a serious issue for Australian businesses. There is hope, though, as revealed by some of the key topics Claire, Cathy, Jayne and Tim discuss, with major organisations such a Transport for NSW, Qantas and Jetstar, and the Australian Defence Force stepping forward to acknowledge the need for change in areas such as flexible working across the genders, top level targets for gender balanced recruitment and support for internal succession planning based upon complete meritocracy and customer satisfaction for public facing institutions.
“Equity – not equality” – a true definition of meritocracy
The theme that echoed around the chandeliers and had people scrambling for pens was that of “equity – not equality.” How the balance of gender is not for the sake of it, but because of proven facts that ASX organisations with balanced workforces benefit from more strategic and successful planning and development, higher levels of employee satisfaction and overall higher performance on both an individual and financial level. It’s about what an individual can bring to the business, regardless of gender.
“We need to look at the pay gap” Claire states, “Australia is still a country that pays by the hour rather than paying by the outcome [...] We need to unpack the idea of merit and what we mean by that.” Companies need to understand the true ideas of meritocracy and implement policies around being rewarded for the outcome itself, not the time spent doing it. This is where the key issue of flexible working practices also comes into play. Too long has ‘flexible working’ meant part time hours for women who have children “Which of course means less pay, less super, retiring in poverty. Let’s not be shy about that.” It needs to be addressed that people can work from home, or wherever they like, for a variety of reasons, and achieve the same thing. “If we’re going to erode the stigma then we have to mainstream the whole area and stop looking at it like an aberration and look at it like the norm.”
Flexible working hours versus flexitime
And flexible working is a thorny subject, all be it one our panellists are all tackling head on. The uniformed Defence Force Gender Equality Advisory Board recently held a survey in which only 2% feel they are working flexibly – “because they have to be out on that parade ground at 8.30 in the morning” Catherine states matter of factly, “it’s the military.” Defence is an issue; when people are out on the boats they can’t just have shorter working day, but now the navy – “instead of going away to sea for three months [have] introduced flexible crewing. It means you don’t have to go away for that long a length of time, and there are ways they do that. Yes it takes a bit of planning, and a bit of work, but it's quite viable [...] I don’t need to point out to you that makes it a much more attractive proposition for [...] a parent of a young child”
TfNSW has moved fast to tear away those processes that have been in place forever, such as ‘flexible work practices’ that equal sometimes a rudimentary timesheet that say ‘these are your core hours, please arrive after 7.30 or take your core hours between 9am and 3pm and make sure I can see you, you’re there and you work til five or whatever.’ In recent years they have broadened that band, ripped out core hours and instead now say to their employees; “We wanted to drive how you work and where you work”.
And working for the Government is sounding increasingly appealing as Tim explains “we encourage people to join our projects team by outfitting them with all the latest technology and kit, on all IT projects there is the option to work from home [...] We do it where we can because we do have regulations.” Unfortunately, because a significant portion of their employees are on the front line with those regulations and restrictions it will take several years to find solutions. Jayne Hrdlicka says that the airlines and other 24/7 services have the same problem: “The HO jobs are easy for us to solve [...] The hard bit for us is not driven by the unions or the legislation, it’s driven by the fact we have planes flying 24/7 and all public holidays [...] so it’s finding a way to enable our people to have more influence and control over how they work shifts with us also having the confidence and certainty that we will have people to work those shifts.”
Social media and a customer-centric focus
A common theme was also the need for businesses to also be more focused on the needs of the customer. Social media access and the voice of the customer being so widespread has increased public services and companies alike to reconsider how they respond to feedback, and how they think about roles to manage those responses.
Like Ralph Norris whilst at CBA – companies can now use the customer satisfaction piece as a driver for changing the gender balance as a natural segway. Tim commented that at TfNSW they are a services business and as such “the technology that it brings [...] means that we need to move faster [...] We have had to do a lot of job redesign and thinking about how we do things differently. New opportunities arise, new types of people need to come into the organisation. Opportunity abounds with that. It rebalances us as an organisation.”
TfNSW is the only Government organisation that has a Deputy Secretary of Customer Services currently (and as a side note; their Minister for Transport happens to be a woman, as does “The person who runs the CBD co-ordination unit, which is probably the hardest job we have, running the city on a daily basis, [is in that role] because she is the best for this job. For a lot of the reasons mentioned previously in terms of empathy, stepping back, being more strategic and dealing with people more effectively.”
Targets at the Top Level
So those are the wider range of ways companies are striving to blend gender equality into new recruitment practices, but what about existing females? We see such a low percentage of applications from women into senior roles across organisations. What are we doing to try and focus on succession planning and developing talent to increase that pool?
The obvious issue is that men will be faster on the draw to put themselves up for roles they view as a stretch for them relative to previous experience compared to women. Women will wait until they’ve ticked every box on the list of capabilities before they apply whereas historically men are quite happy to apply if they only tick about 60% and see it as an opportunity to step up.
Companies need to lean in and encourage women to apply for jobs. There is a necessity to look at shortlists being put forward for jobs and a certain percentage should be female and if it’s not hitting that quota then they need to widen the pool, and go out and encourage women to go for these next step opportunities.
It’s becoming business’s priority to notice women of potential and “make sure those women move through the business at lightning pace, then those women need to be coached and mentored by anybody a level above them, who are passionate about them being developed and they can encourage them” Jayne is insistent on this point. Businesses need to find them and say that person’s job is to say ‘absolutely apply for that step-up role’ and finding active ways to encourage young women coming from middle management taking the next step, or even women at the top who are looking at the next job opportunity or internal step. The sad fact is that if the whole company doesn’t lean in, women just won’t get it.
Couple it with confidence in yourself
“I’ve put people on succession planning before I’ve told them they’re even on it. I’ve mentored them and put them into roles because of the very reason of having to lean in because they can make the ‘rational’ decision that they’re not ready for the role if you tell them.” This is Tim’s response to asking if men are threatened or upset by the thought of this support to women into senior roles.
And this is what needs to come alongside lean in; people need to put themselves forward, people need to back themselves. Companies don’t know who’s out there. So promotions on a candidate’s future capability and being clear on that, is a challenge to everyone, because it is only coming to sessions and round tables such as the ones involved in the Women in Leadership and Male Champions of Change movements that people truly begin to understand how right it is.
Catherine agrees that it takes support from the business as well as self confidence, the two needing to work together to be effective, as she adds “As someone who leant in for their entire career and got a significant reputation for being pushy and difficult, it’s not quite as simple as just telling women to lean in [...]I know a lot of pretty bolshy women [...] and they leant in, and the results were not delivered as proportionately for them as they were for male peers.”
The push forwards
Obviously this is just a snapshot of some of the issues discussed during the lunch, but a white paper on the event will be released in the coming weeks, so keep a close eye on the Morgan McKinley website to understand the composite developments some of the major companies here in New South Wales are making on the Gender Balance.
“We know we will have reached gender balance when there are as many mediocre women in positions of power as there are mediocre men.”