Gaining the competitive edge through Gender Diversity

How to Become an Employer of Choice for Women

The business advantages of improving gender diversity are undeniable:

  • It enables companies to attract and retain the best pool of talent;
  • It improves staff morale and reduces turnover;
  • It drives growth at the bottom line.

In Australia where the skills shortage is really biting hard companies can no longer afford to classify gender diversity as “one of those nice HR things that would be good to implement at some stage,” it has become a real business imperative.

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Authority (EOWA) estimates that the cost of hiring and training a new staff member ranges anywhere from 90-2000 per cent of a person’s annual salary.

On the flipside, for every $1 a company spends on women friendly, flexible work and family benefits there is an estimated return of $2-$6 through reduced absenteeism, increased motivation and higher rates of retention (Work/Family Directions Study 1994, USA)

The Situation Now

According to recent figures from EOWA the situation for working women in Australia isn’t all that rosy. Although women make up 42.6 per cent of the total labour force1, they earn an average of 17.8 per cent less than men working full-time2 and struggle to reach the highest levels of the corporate world. Only 13.5 per cent of directors in the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) 200 are women3 and 65 ASX 200 companies do not have a single woman on their board4.

In an attempt to address this issue, the ASX recently changed its Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations, in relation to diversity and women on boards. The changes, effective as of 1 January 2012, encourage listed companies to disclose in their annual reports the company’s performance in achieving gender diversity objectives and the number of women on the board in senior management and employed across the whole organisation.

Companies who choose not to disclose this information will be required to explain why in their annual reports.

Equal Opportunities?

A recent survey conducted by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (USA) showed that although the majority of Americans believe women’s job opportunities are now equal to men’s (despite the fact women earn less and aren’t being promoted!) barriers against working mothers and inflexible workplaces make it more difficult for women to work after they have a family.

Survey author and assistant professor of management and organisations at the Kellogg School of Management Nicole Stephens said significant obstacles hold women back from reaching the upper levels of organisations.

“Many women do not freely choose to leave the workplace, but instead are pushed out by persistent workplace barriers such as limited workplace flexibility, unaffordable child care, and negative stereotypes about working mothers,” she said.

Becoming an Employer of Choice for Women

In Australia, an effective way to improve gender diversity in your organisation is to work towards achieving an EOWA Employer of Choice for Women (EOCFW) citation.

The EOCFW citation acknowledges companies that are actively recognising and advancing women in the workplace. Companies who successfully apply for the citation may display the emblem on promotional material, including recruitment ads, websites and advertisements for 12 months.

To become an Employer of Choice for Women companies must demonstrate success against six criteria:

  • They must have policies in place to support women across the entire organisation;
  • They must have effective processes which are transparent and gender inclusive;
  • They must have strategies in place that commit to fully using and developing all staff and removing barriers to women;
  • They must educate all employees about their rights and obligations with regard to sex-based harassment;
  • They must have a gender inclusive organisational culture championed by the CEO and senior executives;
  • They must deliver improved outcomes for women, including a minimum six weeks paid parental leave, opportunities for flexible work and gender pay equity reviews.

In 2012, 125 organisations qualified for EOWA’s Employer of Choice for Women citation, the largest group in five years according to EOWA director Helen Conway. 2012 citation winners include companies such as Bankwest, ConocoPhillips, GlaxoSmithKline, Hays, Origin Energy, Alcoa and ExxonMobil Australia both of which have been on the list every year since 2001 when the awards were initiated. Click here for the full list of EOCFW organisations for 2012.

Alcoa’s Director of Talent, Learning and Development, Jann Kinsela, said providing opportunities for women to realise their career potential has been a priority for Alcoa for many years.

“We absolutely rely on talented people to run our operations, so having a strong flexibility offering – for both men and women – is fundamental to our success.”

“It simply makes good business sense for organisations to offer flexibility because if you don’t you’re cutting off your pool of potential talent when it comes to recruitment,” Ms Kinsela said.

Alcoa says investment in family friendly work policies is paying off with 60 per cent of employees being with the company for more than 10 years and high return to work rates after a period of parental leave.

“Embracing diversity and striving to bring more women into our business means we have a better chance of attracting, and frankly retaining, the right people who will be the best fit for the company and who are best placed to deliver business results we need.”

“Alcoa’s workplace policies include things like 13 weeks paid maternity leave, job share opportunities, working from home arrangement in some roles – and all these things are regularly reviewed to ensure they stay relevant to the needs of our people,” Ms Kinsela said.

Fighting the Fight

Most HR professionals are well aware of the advantages of promoting gender diversity in the workplace and would happily implement a range of women friendly workplace initiatives when given the right support and funding.

If the senior management of your organisation is resistant to change EOWA recommends the following strategy:

  • Tell your CEO about other CEOs in Australia who understand the business benefits of equal opportunity to the bottom-line;
  • Tell your CEO about the importance of the ‘EOWA Employer of Choice for Women’ branding and what an advantage this branding affords them in a competitive marketplace. Click here for more about EOWA’s Employer of Choice for Women citation;
  • Tell your CEO how equal opportunity can save a business thousands of dollars in turnover costs. Click here to calculate how much staff turnover is costing your business;
  • Tell your CEO how effectively a business reduces its legal liability if it can demonstrate that it takes equal opportunity seriously;
  • Tell your CEO that proper management of human resources leads to greater productivity, efficiency, creativity and overall profitability;
  • Provide your CEO with the facts about the growing power of women as employees and as customers.

1. ABS, Cat. 6202.0, Labour Force, Australia, Status by Sex – Trend, Table 1, (Released 17.11.11)

2. ABS, Cat. 6302.0, Average Weekly Earnings – Trend, February 2011 (Released 17.11.11

3. AICD Statistics, as at 4th January 2012. Last updated 7 December 2011

4. EOWA Australian Census of Women in Leadership (2010) The Census is conducted every two years.

This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in May 2012

Gaining the Competitive Edge through Gender Diversity