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Numbers don’t tell the whole story on gender diversity

Along with deductions, write-offs and reconciling accounts, Australian businesses have ended the financial year with their second report on diversity strategy and compliance with the ASX Corporate Governance…

Focusing on the numbers will do little to improve gender diversity in Australian businesses. Image from www.shutterstock.com

Along with deductions, write-offs and reconciling accounts, Australian businesses have ended the financial year with their second report on diversity strategy and compliance with the ASX Corporate Governance Council (CGC).

Statistics from the first year’s reporting looked encouraging, with more than 90% of S&P ASX 200 companies holding a diversity policy. But what stands behind those policies and reporting?

In many cases, there is too much emphasis placed on plain numeric declarations and not enough on the quality of diversity management.

While the phrase “gender quota” does not appear in the CGC New Corporate Governance Recommendations on Diversity (the main reference for corporations on the structuring of diversity policies and practices), a reference to numeric targets for women’s participation in the workforce is the overwhelming focus of the document.

Research undertaken by KPMG summarising last year’s reporting results indicates that similar to the focus of the CGC document, the majority of organisations concentrated their efforts on gender ratios, as opposed to developing a broader strategy for promoting inclusion and diversity. While gender quotas have proven effective in several European contexts — notably Norway, which introduced a 40% quota on supervisory boards more than 10 years ago — diversity management goes far beyond the number of women in executive roles.

Using gender quotas or other purely quantitative measures to eradicate discrimination will inevitably create resistance within firms. This is because focusing on numeric goals does little to promote a positive workplace climate. A gender quota creates the impression that the inclusion of female workers is due to their gender as opposed to their merit. Employees want and need to be recognised for their skills, knowledge and expertise, and the focus of the organisational strategy should be on engagement, inclusion, and embrace of diversity as opposed to a head count.

Numbers on their own say nothing about organisational culture, the embeddedness of employees in organisational structures, their participation in the decision making processes, or their well-being and job satisfaction. Rather than solely focusing on policies targeting men-to-women ratios, organisations need to tackle the gender role stereotypes and provide strategies and organisational practices that will address both men and women in the workplace. This goes beyond broader use of paternity leave, part-time work arrangements for working fathers or reasonably priced child care solutions, and requires organisations to design an inclusive, open, flexible, and competence-focused workplace.

While numbers are important, especially to create critical mass for the change to become a new social norm, they are meaningless if not accompanied by a strategic focus on changing the organisational climate. While the number of women on corporate boards increased from 13% in 2010 to 23% in 2012, the Women in Leadership Census report showed that the same women occupied multiple corporate board positions, with 27.5% of women on ASX 200 company boards occupying more than one directorship, a percentage almost twice as high as that among male board members. One of the interpretations of this finding could be that organisations do not actively look to identify and mentor new female talent, but instead tick the gender diversity box when necessary by accessing existing female talent.

It is clear that the Australian workplace is still largely a man’s world. The 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, published annually by the World Economic Forum, shows that while Australia leads in terms of open access to education for both genders, we are in 68th place for income equality. By way of comparison, New Zealand ranks 16th.

With inevitable changes to Australia’s demographics, organisations that embrace multinational, multigenerational, and gender-diverse workforces will have a source of unmatched competitive advantage. The war for talent and shortage of highly skilled employees on the Australian job market means that organisations need to become the “employers of choice” for a very diverse pool of job applicants.

With an increasing participation of highly skilled women in the job market and their growing mobility, only those organisations that provide a positive and rewarding work climate will be able to not only attract, but most of all to retain top performers. Will this year’s CGC reporting on diversity acknowledge the evolving demographic trends? The answer is probably not, but those organisations that do appreciate and leverage diversity will have a good start in the ever-increasing war for attracting, motivating and retaining talent.

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25 Comments sorted by

  1. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    "It is clear that the Australian workplace is still largely a man’s world"

    Out of the last 12 articles on The Conversation that have dealt with management, economics, companies and business, there were 12 male authors, and one female co-author.

    Such as the articles “Profits from forests? Leave the trees standing”, Packer’s Barangaroo Casino and the inevitablity of pokies”, FactCheck: is our unemployment rate low by world standards? “, “The northern cattle industry: no longer Rudderless” etc.

    So the statement “It is clear that the Australian workplace is still largely a man’s world.” could have an added extra of “because so few women have any real interest in management, economics, companies and business”.

    The main topic of articles written by women seem to be about other women, such as the article “A brand for social change? The myth of Dove’s ‘real beauty’

    So it could be said women are preoccupied with themselves and other women

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    1. Betina Szkudlarek

      Lecturer in Cross-Cultural Management, Discipline of International Business at University of Sydney

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Very interesting observation. When I first looked at the ASX Corporate Governance Council New Corporate Governance Recommendations on Diversity I was surprised to see the primary focus being gender ratios. A few conversations with corporate executives made me realise that the Australian workplace is not ready to fully address the multifaceted nature of workforce diversity. Current governmental pressures force the organizations to tackle the gender issue, which then is often narrowed down to gender…

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    2. In reply to Dale Bloom

      Comment removed by moderator.

    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Betina Szkudlarek

      Regard’s more counting of numbers, the website “Project Syndicate” contains articles from authors across the world from a diverse number of backgrounds who present a diverse range of topics and ideas.

      Out of the last 20 articles regards economics, 21 authors or co-authors were male, and 2 authors or co authors were female.

      http://www.project-syndicate.org/economists-club

      I wonder if someone has ever thought physiological or biological factors create this result (that is repeated so often in so many websites and media publications), and not some type of social factor.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Thought Experiment

      There are a myriad of women's magazines, but I have yet to find one with a science and technology section.

      There is also no sexism involved when so few women present material for publication in areas such as economics and business.

      The situation is that few women present material for publication in areas such as economics and business

      It is interesting that having women on boards will supposedly improve industry (as some are telling us to believe), but so few women ever present any ideas or suggestions on how to improve industry.

      What we are told to believe and what is reality are entirely different.

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    5. Freya Elizabeth

      Graphic designer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Research by economists, Goldin & Rouse, indicates that the introduction of blind auditioning for symphony orchestras increased the percentage of women musicians by 30%.

      This study demonstrates that gender bias exists in the arts as well as in industries you have stereotypically defined as "male". Other studies on gender and job applications indicate similar bias.

      Such direct gender-blind studies as that by Goldin and Rouse are not possible in other industries, which would support the usefulness of quota-based measures to address inequality and bias in other industries, such as journalism, business etc.

      I suggest that your sweeping assertions about gender and occupation are founded on dated and narrow minded gender stereotypes, rather than any informed understanding.

      Incidentally, Professors in Economics at Harvard and Princeton, Goldin and Rouse, are women. A fact which may also present a challenge to your stereotyped assumptions.

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    6. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Freya Elizabeth

      Ah Freya, just a little tip that might come in handy. 'Male' is not a 'gender'.

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    7. Freya Elizabeth

      Graphic designer

      In reply to David Thompson

      David, your tips are always most helpful. But perhaps you did not notice the "quotation marks"?

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    8. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Freya Elizabeth

      No. I. Did. Not. But what intrigue! Are you implying that Dale's "males" are actually trannies?

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    9. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Freya Elizabeth

      We are being told to believe that quota systems of women on boards will bring diversity and new ideas to businesses.

      I’m particularly interested in the new ideas of women, so where are they?

      Their new ideas are rarely published or presented.

      I estimate that less than 10% of articles published on economics and business are authored by women.

      My conclusion is that what we are being told to believe is just a myth or made up story.

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    10. Freya Elizabeth

      Graphic designer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Who is "we"? And who is telling you to believe anything? You are free to disagree and to believe what you want.

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    11. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Freya Elizabeth

      “We” is the public, and most of this push to have women on boards seems to be coming from feminists and academics.

      Go through “related articles”

      But still waiting to hear the new ideas women will bring if they placed on boards of directors via a quota system.

      Women certainly haven’t published many of their ideas as yet.

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    12. Betina Szkudlarek

      Lecturer in Cross-Cultural Management, Discipline of International Business at University of Sydney

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      In regards to the question on economic case for gender diversity in corporate boards this link might provide some initial insights: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/files/womenonboards/factsheet-general-1_en.pdf

      Moreover, in the article I argue that gender quotas can have the opposite effect from that intended, in form of, for example, resistance (which this conversation partially proves). It is about recognising talent and breaking stereotypes. I could quote here numerous studies…

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    13. Freya Elizabeth

      Graphic designer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      What is it exactly that you object to about increasing women's roles on boards? You seem to believe this is some kind of threat to you, or to your way of life, or to civilisation perhaps? I'm genuinely curious.

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    14. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Betina Szkudlarek

      I am interested in this so called “gender diversity”, and what it means in a tangible sense.

      I can find minimal articles by women on business and economics, and I am wondering what are women’s ideas and opinions regards the following issues that seem to be currently relevant.

      - Company taxation rates
      - The amount of tax being paid by multinationals.
      - Foreign workers.
      - The sale of farmland to foreign companies.
      - The sale of value adding industries to foreign companies.
      - The sale of…

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  2. Freya Elizabeth

    Graphic designer

    I agree with the author's suggestion that gender quotas may not be sufficient to address the fixed cultural attitudes and assumptions which are so well demonstrated down here.

    As recent political events demonstrate, it appears that these attitudes have become more entrenched, not less. Possibly a side-effect of the so-called "culture wars" which, as well as directly opposing diversity, seem to have contributed to a deterioration in private as well as public debate by explicitly and implicitly condoning abuse of others for their 'difference'.

    It seems that educational and awareness strategies are sorely needed, as well as economic incentives.

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  3. Social Myths

    Manager

    Very interesting article. I am sorry for the enthusiasm of my questions.

    Q1:
    Can we know your opinion about gender quotas in university students?
    Logically if quota is defined in working place they should be defined also in the universities (the pre-working place). Don’t you agree? Do you imagine a quota of 40% females and 60% males in your classrooms? Because if the market is asking (imposing) for this discrimination, it doesn’t really make sense to have 10% /90% in the universities (in fact…

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    1. Betina Szkudlarek

      Lecturer in Cross-Cultural Management, Discipline of International Business at University of Sydney

      In reply to Social Myths

      Very interesting questions. Let me try to address them. 
       Q1: Can we know your opinion about gender quotas in university students? 

      I believe that these issues are related to the context about which we speak. In the majority of the developed countries access to education is not gender biased. The assessment system is designed in a way in which anonymous skills and knowledge tests allow best candidates to get in. In the work context we see many more possibilities for gender, race, age, culture…

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    2. Social Myths

      Manager

      In reply to Betina Szkudlarek

      Thanks for the clear answers.

      Just some topics still:

      Q1
      I agree and got your point, but if there are impositions in working market, then they should appear also before that. Otherwise, we are creating fake expectations in the students and also we are influencing the demand from students and the meritocracy of the choice.
      This is , according to me an argument to destroy this idea of quota.

      Q2
      You mentioned homophily and I can agree with the general idea about it, but in terms of working…

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    3. Betina Szkudlarek

      Lecturer in Cross-Cultural Management, Discipline of International Business at University of Sydney

      In reply to Social Myths

      I am not sure I fully understand your first question. I do not think that in the current situation there is a necessity for quotas in education. Any company attempting to introduce quotas needs to first assess whether there are enough qualified candidates among the target groups they are trying to recruit. This means that if there are not enough qualified graduates or job applicants in the job market, there is no point in imposing numeric measures.

      In response to your second question, yes…

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    4. Social Myths

      Manager

      In reply to Betina Szkudlarek

      Thanks for the articles. I was checking some of them.
      This would lead us to a long discussion (I believe), so I will save you from that.
      Its a long highway .

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