Stop fearing gender diversity and get on with it
Gender diversity in the workplace? It's a relatively simple concept. So why is it so challenging for many companies and executives to enact?
As with many things in life, there is no need for fear. Instead, we need to take action to create professional opportunities for all, regardless of gender.
Much of my working life has been in racing and gaming. In an industry that could seem like a typical ‘boys club’ to those outside, I’m extremely proud to say that Tabcorp is setting the benchmark for a workplace that celebrates everyone’s contribution, regardless of gender. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case in all organisations, particularly in the traditionally male-dominated fields that include science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
In STEM careers, the statistics make for uncomfortable reading. In IT, 1 in 4 graduates are women, and in engineering it’s 1 in 10. Are these young women put off at an early stage by parents or teachers? Or simply are these careers not attractive enough to entice them? While we do not have all the answers, we can help provide a smoother passage for prospective female employees. We need to provide meaningful and valuable careers for women in these fields, and support their progress at every stage.
A barrier to attract the best female graduates into STEM careers is the pay gap. In 2015, the pay gap in these industries stood at 22.6%, against an equally alarming national average gap of 17%. This is not an option for employers. It is imperative that this balance is addressed now in Australia to help recruit the best women into the industry.
We know we have read all of the studies that having diverse and inclusive workplaces just makes good business sense. They provide easier access to resources, such as different perspectives, multiple sources of information, and wider knowledge and experience. And we know that achieving gender balance allows companies to better serve an increasingly diverse customer base. Men have an essential role to play in leading more diverse workplaces. Senior executives and leaders, still for the most part men, must visibly champion diversity efforts and programs if they are to be successful.
The opportunities arising from a diverse and flexible workforce should not be seen to just benefit women. In my own company, I believe that we have a duty to support all carers regardless of their gender. Family life takes priority and the workplace must facilitate this. There are working mothers and working fathers; both need to be recognised and supported in their careers. Why shouldn't men put their hands up for part-time or flexible roles to help look after their children? This shift needs to be encouraged at every level of business.
We also need to take a lead from countries such as Sweden, which have encouraged a flexible work day. The standard 9am-5pm day is completely incompatible with school hours. We need to work with our employees to find hours that suit them and their family commitments, not the other way around. There are only so many hours in a day, and it's important that they are used productively for the benefit of parents.
Gender diversity needs to be at the top of every executive’s mind in Australia. It is not to be feared, or ignored. It is an opportunity for all of us to embrace.