Levers to improve gender diversity outcomes

At this month’s CEOs for Gender Equity CEO Roundtable, Professor Stephen Chapman vice chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor Professor Cobie Rudd at Edith Cowan University, chaired a discussion regarding the importance of using various levers to improve gender outcomes within an organisation.

The discussion kicked off with a focus on incremental changes which can have a large impact. Participants shared the changes they have implemented in their workplace to support gender diversity. These changes included:

-          establishing a parenting room which included private spaces for women to breastfeed;

-          having dedicated car parking for carers arriving after 9am so that carers can drop their children at school or childcare and still have a parking space available;

-          having creches on site;

-          ‘leaving loudly’ when attending school events or picking children up from school;

-          sponsoring women with high potential to move into more senior roles; and

-          ensuring that employee newsletters include diversity initiatives as a standing news item.

One of the key reflections that many of the attendees had was around the importance of asking key stakeholders, for example, students and employees what could be done differently, and being willing to act based on the feedback.  Attendees who felt the outcomes they were achieving had stagnated found that by asking stakeholders what their experiences were and what levers were most important to achieve the change, said their assumptions were challenged and their strategy was amended to reflect the feedback.

Recognising that culture plays a significant role in both attracting and retaining women in any industry, there was a discussion around gender segregation in Australia’s workforce. Engineering was identified as a profession which still had the perception of a masculine culture, which needed to be addressed from as early as when engineers were completing their studies.

Just 13.6 per cent of engineers in Australia are women, the last census showed. That's up from 10.6 per cent a decade earlier, though that increase is largely due to overseas migration.

Recognising the importance of workplace culture on building a diverse and inclusive team, one attendee said they were committing to building an inclusive workplace prior to undertaking a large recruitment drive. This was  to ensure that when women joined their organisation that they would feel  valued and there was an appropriate culture that would welcome and  support them. 

The attendees at the roundtable also discussed the value of metrics to measure the impact of current initiatives, and to help identify additional levers which would achieve further change. Gender pay equity reviews were discussed as a practical tool to understand areas for improvement. According to the Workplace Gender Equity Agency, in 2015: The full time gender pay equity gap in Western Australia is 24.9% - nationally it is 17.3% and Western Australia lags behind the nation in completing gender pay equity reviews with only 1 in 3 Western Australia enterprises conducting a pay gap analysis.

At the end of each CEO Roundtable, attendees are asked to make one commitment to improve gender equity within their organisation, these commitments can be large or small, but to achieve change we need to start somewhere.  

Thanks to Steve Chapman, vice-chancellor, Edith Cowan University who as a CEO for Gender Equity had made a commitment to addressing gender inequity in Western Australia.

“Change is needed, not simply in policy and process, but in rethinking the invisible barriers that staff and students face in the workplace every day. Gender equality is about ensuring talent is grown, retained and cultivated for the betterment of everybody - we need to provide everyone with what they need to be successful. Australia now faces significant economic, social, workforce and environmental challenges and we can’t afford to miss out on the talents of a whole section of our population because of gender inequities; the time for being patient is over."

Professor Stephen Chapman Vice Chancellor at Edith Cowan University

Tania Cecconi

Since 2016, I have been thrilled to work with CEOs for Gender Equity as its inaugural executive director. Working with progressive CEOs my goal is to turn the dial in Western Australia. My job is to help them lead the transformation of their workforce by eliciting and sharing their stories of what works and doesn't work to drive and improve gender equity further.