International Women’s Month – yes read on!

March is now generally recognised around the world as the month where we recognise women’s contribution to the world – at home, work and society in general. Yet for all the words printed about gender equality and equity in the workplace, why do we still have over 62% of men in the “C Suite” when we have more women represented in the overall workforce than men. Why do we have 100 men promoted to lower management positions to only 86 women? (In fact, in my “home” industry of technology, the number is closer to 50).

Yet many of you have stopped reading by now.

Over the years, of all my blogs and posts to Facebook, Linked In and in my newsletter, articles about gender in the workplace are the most poorly viewed and received. In a recent chat with a women leader who works with entrepreneurs and start-ups, she says that most of the young men she works with haven’t even considered gender equity on their boards or in their team.

Are we complacent with gender equity issues in Australia?

There is a famous study of gender equity at Deloitte’s in the 90’s. When the then CEO realised that only 10% of candidates for partner in the firm were women, he proudly stated this was because that women wanted to go off and have children. In fact, when they studied this further, over 70% of women that left Deloitte went to other jobs. Only 10% of women left to have children. Women didn’t leave to change nappies, they left because the job stank.

Women may want to have children and care for them, but they don’t want to do this at the expense of their career.

In recent research of MBA Graduates over the years, 28% of Gen X women and 44% of baby boom women had taken a career break of 6 months or more to care for children. Only 2% of men in each age category had done the same. For Millennials, the numbers are slightly better, yet 66% of millennial men expect that women will handle the majority of child caring, whereas only 42% of millennial women have this expectation.

The point is, what are you doing to promote women leaders in your organisation? Having a diverse workplace is very important, but having women leaders will help drive greater engagement and performance in your workplace. So how are you allowing women to have children and care for them and still contribute to your organisation as a leader?

Flexible workplace policies are not enough.

In fact, everyone wants a flexible workplace, not just women caring for others. McKinsey refers to the “broken rung” – that first opportunity for promotion to a lower level management – as the most important starting point. Do you have a structured approach to promotion to management, or is it done on gut feel and familiarity? Do you seek people out to apply, women and men, or do you only consider those that apply? Or even do you make the mistake of only hiring externally and overlooking the talent within your organisation? If an internal candidate for a role doesn’t get the job, do you give structured feedback on areas they need to work on so they are successful in their next attempt? Or do you just say “other candidates were stronger”, or the cringeworthy “You came second”?

Some of these things may seem like they only apply to larger organisations. Yet organisations of all sizes need to take accountability for gender equity. Do you encourage the women in your organisation to join network groups that will connect them with other women (and men) that can give them an external perspective on their career? Do you connect your staff with mentors within your organisation or externally to give them further support and guidance?

Let’s not get into that mode where gender inequity is “just the way it is”. Take action now to help progress equity in your organisation, and don’t do it just because you think it is right, do it to make your organisation grow and prosper.