How to Attract More Women to Male Dominated Industries

How to attract more women to male dominated industries

Recent research from Goldman Sachs shows that Australia is missing out on $195 billion of gross domestic product through failing to close the gender gap¹. Underrepresentation of women happens in many industries, however the typically male dominated areas of construction, mining and utilities are of particular concern. In fact, Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick recently reported that the lack of women in these sectors was not only undermining gender equality in Australia but also having negative effects on industry performance and the economy more widely.

“Australia ranks fourth in the world in talent shortages and many male-dominated industries are suffering a lack of skilled workers,” Commissioner Broderick said. “Encouraging greater women’s participation in these industries is one solution that could go a long way to addressing these skills shortages.”

It could also have a significant impact on the country’s future growth prospects. Research from the Grattan Institute has shown that improving women’s employment participation rates to those seen in Canada (62.4 per cent) could increase Australia’s economic growth in the next ten years by $25 billion and boost economic activity by 20 per cent.

Research has also shown that organisations benefit from employing and retaining women at every level and Gallup Workplace Studies have reported that organisations with inclusive cultures enjoy higher customer satisfaction, greater productivity and higher profitability.

To attract and retain more women to traditionally male dominated industries the Australian Human Rights Commission has created the Women in Male Dominated Industries Toolkit which Commissioner Broderick says was developed to promote dialogue and the sharing of ideas about representation of women in male dominated industries.

“It encourages employers, employees, government, community, and unions to think about the contribution women can make and to actively share strategies for attracting, recruiting, retaining and developing women’s skills in traditionally male-dominated fields,” she said.

The toolkit is divided into the areas of attraction, recruitment, retention and development of women’s skills in industries that have traditionally remained dominated by male leadership and employees.

According to the resource making a proactive organisation wide commitment to improving operational practices in these areas can.

  • Ensure there is recognition of women (half of the population and potentially the workforce) and the skills and experience they contribute at all levels of the organisation.
  • Embed a diverse and flexible approach that recognises and responds to a diverse workforce, where each individual, regardless of gender, has their different needs met.
  • Deliver an integrated approach that ensures positive outcomes for both the organisation and employees.
  • Change the organisation’s culture to embrace diversity and flexibility as an ongoing commitment to the entire workforce – not just ‘special treatment’ for women.

The toolkit offers valuable insights into what leading edge Australian organisations are doing to increase representation and improve retention rates of women in non-traditional roles. The research shows that the most successful organisations have an integrated gender diversity strategy which involves multiple principles and practices designed to ensure they can attract, recruit, retain and develop women at all levels within the organisation.

According to the toolkit some of the most successful strategies employed by the leading edge organisations include:

  • Leadership from the top with the CEO and senior leaders supporting the clearly articulated vision for gender diversity across the organisation, with a specific focus on increasing the representation of women in non-traditional roles.
  • Establishment of a Diversity Council with the CEO and executive leaders tasked to endorse the gender diversity strategy and to monitor delivery against action plans.
  • Establishment of accountability, targets and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and linking gender diversity, with a particular focus on increasing women in non-traditional roles, to the performance and remuneration outcomes of leaders.
  • Implementation of a transparent monitoring and reporting system which tracks female-specific data and is reported against regularly. Using this data to assess the impact of policies, practices and strategies.
  • Conducting employee surveys to find out what is working and what is not working with existing workplace culture and policies. Disaggregation of responses based on the gender of respondents and the type of role, including those that are non-traditional.
  • Inviting men to co-develop the strategy and get their perspectives and participation for buy-in, co-ownership and lasting success for increasing women’s participation in non-traditional roles.
  • Ensuring pay equity (both fixed and variable pay) at all levels of the organisation and ensuring this is regularly monitored through a transparent audit process.
  • Monitoring turnover by gender and undertaking exit interviews (on departure and one year after departure) to understand reasons for resignation.
  • Implementation of policies to change workplace culture to be more inclusive. Changing behaviours and attitudes about roles women can do by challenging assumptions and stereotypes about male-dominated roles and workplaces.
  • Embedding the gender diversity strategy within all key Human Resources processes including the end-to-end talent process. Injecting scrutiny at all critical decision making points within the talent process.
  • Developing a communication plan to share the vision, strategy and action plan to achieve gender diversity with all employees and with all key external stakeholders.
  • Publicly promoting the benefits of gender diversity and aiming to be a recognised leader in having a sustainable and inclusive culture.

Another important element is reducing or removing the barriers to entry that exist in traditionally male dominated industries. A series of roundtables conducted in the preparation of the Women in Male Dominated Industries Toolkit revealed that there are many well entrenched barriers which have had a cumulative effect on the representation of women in some sectors. While organisations can work to lessen the effects of some of these many will require a more fundamental cultural shift to change.

Barriers to entry may include:

Lack of family role models: Many men learn about careers in mining, construction or utilities industries through their father or other male family members. Women are less likely to come across role models in these industries until later in life and exposure is likely to occur in formal settings such as recruitment seminars rather than through personal relationships.

Stereotypes at school: Career decisions may be solidified through educational choices made in school and post-secondary education. Girls are more likely to consider education and careers in the humanities or social sciences rather than engineering or technical fields. These biases may be reinforced by teachers.

Negative perception and lack of awareness: Even with the ‘right’ education, relatively few women are choosing to consider and apply for roles within male-dominated industries. Part of the reason is a negative perception of the industries or anecdotal feedback from others about a negative experience. Another factor is a lack of awareness of the opportunities and the career paths that are available within these industries.

Stereotypes and myths about women in the workplace: Organisations within these industries are not addressing the stereotypes and assumptions about the sort of work women can do, have the skills to do, their potential performance and their commitment. These stereotypes about women’s lack of ability and aspiration, and the roles women should do (such as caring and motherhood) are then used to justify the activities of organisations that exclude women from recruitment and development activities.

Workplace culture: Male-dominated industries are perceived to have a masculine or ‘blokey’ culture that is non-inclusive and has a higher tolerance of behaviours that could be viewed as sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination. This leads to a perception that jobs within these organisations would be a challenge at every stage of a career, not just at senior leadership.

Perception of (and actual) gender specific bias: These industries are perceived to have a bias against women in relation to recruitment, development and career advancement, particularly in roles that are non-traditional and at the senior leadership level. This perception is then reinforced by the low percentages of women that work in these industries.

Structural issues: These industries, particularly mining, have a culture of long hours and may not offer flexibility and work-life balance. This is particularly true for roles where workers need to fly in to remote locations. There is also a perception that organisations in these industries fail to offer workplace facilities and uniforms that are inclusive of women.

Many organisations are tackling these barriers head on with recruitment and marketing campaigns designed to highlight the advantages for women. Some are also taking a proactive stance on improving the actual working conditions for women. Recent data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency has shown that in the male dominated electricity, gas, water and waste services industry nine out of ten organisations offer employer funded maternity leave with an average length of nearly 11 weeks (the average across all industries is just under ten weeks) and the mining industry offers an average of just over 12 weeks.

To read more about the most successful strategies for attracting, recruiting, retaining and developing women in non-traditional industries make sure you read Women in Male Dominated Industries: A Toolkit of Strategies 2013.

References and Further Reading

Women in Male Dominated Industries: A Toolkit of Strategies 2013 by the Australian Human Rights Commission

1. Gender gap costs country $195b, says economist by Adele Ferguson, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 March 2013.

2. Workplace Gender Equality Agency

 This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in July 2013