Let’s revisit the problem
Women make up nearly half of the Australian workforce, yet they remain dramatically under-represented in senior roles in Australian organisations. Within the largest 200 organisations listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX200), women hold only 23 per cent of board directorships and just 5 per cent of CEO positions.
Further to the obvious equality concerns, the issue is of increasing importance in our declining economy, with empirical evidence suggesting that gender diversity in leadership is positively associated with economic growth.
The impact on our economy
According to Goldman Sachs, increasing the number of women in leadership positions could boost Australia’s gross domestic product by as much as 20 per cent. “Evidence shows gender diversity generates better bottom-line returns and has been proved to be key to success,” says former South Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner and Women in MBA selection panel member, Anne Gale.
Want to be part of the solution? 4 tips to boost gender diversity in your organisation
“Changing the gender diversity imbalance can only be effective when businesses are truly committed to, and championing, equality at the top. This means resolutely endorsing flexibility and sponsoring successful women, and expecting no less from the companies with which they engage,” says Professor Carol Kulik, Research Professor of Human Resource Management at the University of South Australia Business School and senior researcher within the Centre for Workplace Excellence (CWeX).
Often referenced to address the gender gap, the pipeline theory has been around for decades, suggesting that once we have enough educated women in organisations, all we have to do is wait and the pipeline will push them into senior roles.
“There’s only one problem with the pipeline theory – it doesn’t hold water,” says Professor Kulik.
Today, women make up nearly half of the Australian workforce and in every age bracket, their educational levels are equal to or greater than men. However, “women’s pipelines operate less efficiently than men’s, and education level, work experience, and company tenure all benefit men’s advancement (and men’s salaries) more than they benefit women’s”, says Professor Kulik.
But smart organisations don’t leave their pipelines to self-manage, they actively support and grow the pipeline, so that female talent makes its way into critical roles across all levels of the organisation.
Professor Kulik’s research provides insights into the diversity management practices that make the difference to address the leadership gender gap and they are more straightforward than you may think.
- Highlight willingness to accommodate
Women continue to shoulder more responsibility than men for off -the-job family responsibilities, so researchers and practitioners frequently emphasise flexibility as a strategy for achieving greater gender diversity. Most organisations will say they offer flexibility, but they leave it to the employee to initiate the conversation and flexibility is delivered only at the line manager’s discretion. Unfortunately, many line managers are reluctant to support flexible work; flexibility demands creative scheduling and work redesign.
- Know that mentoring is not the solution
Research indicates that women receive more mentoring than men, but women’s mentors have less organisational clout and are less likely to influence career advancement. Smart organisations don’t expect mentoring alone to increase gender diversity in leadership; they add sponsorship and leadership programs to the mix. Sponsors offer feedback and guidance, just like mentors do. But sponsors also use their influence to affect a mentee’s career; they make sure that their mentee is visible and they advocate for the mentee to senior executives. Smart organisations are adopting ‘Plus One’ initiatives in which senior leaders commit to increasing the number of female direct reports by at least one. These initiatives motivate senior managers to work across hierarchical levels, to sponsor women for positions as they become available.
- Use data
Many organisations have already reviewed their job descriptions and organisational policies to remove discriminatory language. And many organisations have modified practices (for example, long work hours or short-notice travel demands) that might have prevented women from entering or advancing into key roles. But how many organisations are monitoring the outcomes of those policies and practices? Smart organisations conduct pay audits to identify inadvertent gender pay gaps and review promotion data to locate pipeline blockages. They track career progress to ensure that women entering the talent pipeline don’t ‘leak’ at later stages. The results of these analyses cascade up through the organisation to the highest levels where they are used to develop succession plans that explicitly consider gender diversity.
- Be impatient with the pipeline and take steps to speed it up
Most organisations passively wait for the pipeline to ‘trickle up’ talent into senior roles. However, academic research has documented simultaneous and powerful ‘trickle down’ processes. Women in senior leadership positions can grow the pipeline directly, by mentoring women in lower level jobs and advocating for their promotions. A ‘critical mass’ of women in senior leadership roles can identify organisational barriers to gender diversity and, more importantly, have the power to remove them.
Committed to developing graduates for global careers and enabling business growth in our state, UniSA’s leading Business School recognises it has a major role to play in growing the pipeline.
For this reason, UniSA Business School supports aspirational women with a dedicated Women in MBA (WiMBA) scholarship. The initiative serves as a practical support mechanism to address leadership inequality and enable women with leadership potential to advance their careers into senior management and executive roles.
It recognises, as Professor Kulik highlights, that women need a mixture of support, so in addition to the valuable five-star* MBA qualification and financial support, the scholarship requires employers to provide flexibility in working arrangements to support study, a career mentor and supportive career pathway options.
Equally, it provides organisations that support the initiative and their staff a chance to demonstrate their commitment to addressing gender diversity in leadership and helps to grow their very own female talent pipeline.
*UniSA Business School’s MBA program has been awarded a QS five-Star™ rating for Excellence in 2015 and a 5-star Graduate Management Association of Australia (GMAA) rating for eight consecutive years.
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