Most organisations understand the importance of female leadership: the positive impact it has on corporate performance. But few are close to getting to true gender equality. The gender pay gap has been stuck at more than 15% for two decades. According to the Global Gender Gap Report, while Australia scores very highly in the area of educational attainment, we have a long way to go in areas like economic participation and opportunity within our organisations.
I believe Australian companies need three elements to push through our current inertia and move the dial in a meaningful way. Getting to equal will take:
Reaching gender equality will require a diverse leadership team that sets, shares and measures equality targets openly. Having female leaders in the mix is particularly important. We know that women who have female role models feel more supported by their company. You need an environment and culture that develops female leaders, empowers women and enables them to thrive. At Accenture, we are striving towards a target of 25% of all managing directors to be female by 2020, through initiatives targeted at growing and developing high-performing females.
You need policies and practices that are family-friendly, support both genders and are bias-free in attracting and retaining people. This includes empowering women to not just remain in the company during life changes, such as having a family, but being able to continue to develop and advance their careers during these times. You need to support women to make purposeful decisions and be proactive in their career planning, using mentors and coaches, to ensure they are undertaking meaningful and fulfilling work – even if their family commitments mean they need to work remotely, flexibly or part time.
Parents of both genders need support returning to work after having and caring for a baby. It’s important to ease the transition back into the workforce by providing career guidance and support for finding ideal re-entry roles. It’s also vital to offer everyone flexible work arrangements and a range of work/life programs that encourage balance between work and personal priorities – be they family, hobbies, volunteering or sporting pursuits.
People need to have regular, meaningful conversations with their career counsellors relating to their performance achievement and planning for their future career and life choices.
An empowering environment
Trust is essential to driving company-wide uptake of flexible work options. You have respect and trust your employees, offering them the freedom to be creative and to train and work flexibly. We know that high performance happens when people are doing what they love to do. You need an engagement model to ensure women, in particular, are in the right role, working with the right internal sponsor and the right internal or external clients.
Performance coaching frameworks are great at helping people to prioritise what really matters, ensuring they work on a few key vital priorities that will make the greatest impact. Having the right priorities gives people focus and direction. Priorities also help people to tell their ‘stories’ of personal accomplishments and brand-building career moments – vital communications blocks in perpetuating and reinforcing your culture.
Push towards the tipping point
Taking bold action on gender equality becomes more rewarding as organisations become more balanced. Women are four times more likely to rise when there is a gender balanced workforce. But getting to the tipping point requires grit. Companies need to take real, tangible steps towards gender equality – with all teams and all employees – or they risk getting left behind.