No more excuses for corporates on gender diversity | Women's Agenda

No more excuses for corporates on gender diversity

What gets measured gets managed. And what gets managed ultimately gets done.

It seems senior leaders understand this mantra on so many levels when it comes to their work and the accountability that’s expected of them. So why should it be any different when it comes to addressing gender diversity?

Setting ‘gender targets’ offers a last chance attempt for organisations to regulate themselves on addressing the number of women in management and senior leadership positions, rather than having regulations imposed on them. It’s, potentially, the final step before the dreaded ‘q word’ gets some serious consideration: quotas.

The 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership outlined just how much work there is to do when it comes to women in leadership, finding just 9.2% of ASX500 director and executive management positions are held by women.

And with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency releasing a comprehensive tool for setting and measuring gender diversity across different levels of the organisation, it appears our corporates may finally be out of excuses for not setting targets in order to address the issue.

It’s not ‘too hard’. Indeed, small and large businesses alike should be able to use this tool. And it’s certainly not a case of ‘there are no women to promote or appoint’ – just take a look around. Tools like what’s on offer from WGEA could, however, mean leaders get a much better understanding on where exactly the female pipeline for leadership gets blocked, and find solutions for responding accordingly.

Produced in collaboration with Dr Graeme Russell, WGEA’s free tool works along similar lines to setting financial or operational targets within an organisation, off the premise that your chances of achieving a target are much better with rigorous analysis and plenty of data to show how you’re tracking.

Launched Monday at the Sydney offices of the Commonwealth Bank, Russell took the audience through how to get started on setting gender targets, with a number of senior leaders declaring they could see how the tool would benefit, including ASX managing director Elmer Funke Kupper and Commonwealth Bank Group Treasurer Lyn Cobley.

Cobley noted that numerical targets on gender diversity make sense in business, especially at a bank. CBA achieved organisational buy-in on the need to get more women into leadership when it publicly declared in June 2010 a target of increasing female representation in senior leadership roles to 35% by December 2014.

Meanwhile Kupper, one of 22 ‘Male Champions of Change’ who’ve committed to advancing gender diversity across corporate Australia, said he believes the tool will help organisations get “practical” about what they’re trying to do.

While he’s experienced a bit of “push back” on gender targets, especially from those who believe it can open their organisations to scrutiny and exposure, he said it’s the very exposure targets offer that ultimately help them succeed. “It’s where you are uncomfortable that you make a difference,” he told the audience.

Catalyst senior director Mary Boughton, visiting Australia from the US, was also impressed with the tool, declaring measurements can help highlight pain points. She said targets work if they’re tied to the business case for gender diversity and have management buy-in. “I think the companies that implement this will get their fair share of the top talent and therefore be more successful,” she said.

But while using the tool provides clarity on how an organisation is tracking, it won’t alone provide the silver bullet solution to making gender targets work.

Achieving gender targets requires a serious commitment to acquiring and analysing the relevant data. It also means thinking outside the square of what we’ve come to expect from the traditional ‘path to leadership’ in order to provide more scope for career breaks, part-time work and flexible careers.

Ultimately it involves a willingness to address and potentially dismantle existing cultural and structural barriers within the workplace that may be holding women back.

And as WGEA director Helen Conway said at the launch, WGEA can provide plenty of help but leaders must drive the change – that starts with the CEO.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox