Of the places I have worked during my career, the best have been companies in which there was a gender-balanced workforce. Having similar numbers of male and female employees has a positive impact on everything from organisational culture to management style.
The reasons for this come down to basic human nature. In a single-sex dominated environment, power plays and politics are more likely to be evident. Even up the mix and the focus shifts more to outcomes where people instead rely on their capabilities and resourcefulness.
Overall, the atmosphere of gender-balanced companies makes them far better places in which to work. Individuals — men and women — tend to be recognised for their contribution and the value they bring to teams and the organisation as a whole.
For these reasons, it makes sense for all organisations to be striving to address any gender imbalance that exists within their employee ranks. By taking purposeful action, they will be better placed to change the mix and thus create a more inclusive and productive environment.
It’s not all about flexibility
As part of my PhD studies, I recently conducted some qualitative and quantitative research to determine what factors were most important for the development of a gender-balanced workplace. The results confirmed some of my preconceptions, but blew others out of the water.
For example, I had initially thought women would be attracted to workplaces that offered flexibility in working hours. This, I’d thought, would help in balancing the demands of children and family life. However the research results proved this wasn’t the case.
For the vast majority of my interview subjects, factors such as having salaries commensurate with those of male colleagues and being able to work towards defined goals sat at the top of their priority lists.
My research showed that the professional desires of women are no different from those of men. They want to be working as working as part of a successful team and feel as though they are meeting their full personal potential.
Recruiting women into the workplace
As they embrace the goal of establishing a gender-balanced workforce, organisations need to look critically at the way they recruit new staff. One area that should be examined is the advertisements used to notify prospects of new positions.
Experience shows men will apply for a job even if they only match 60 per cent of the required criteria. Women, on the other hand, are likely to only apply if they feel they meet them all.
For this reason, job ads should be written in ways that attract a range of applicants with varying experience and qualifications. The ads should also incorporate images that show a diverse workplace and one in which they would be made to feel welcome.
As well as traditional advertising, it’s also worth making use of the social networks of women who are already within the organisation. Recommendations from people you know are very important and so a ‘heads up’ on a new job from a friend can be very motivating.
Once applications have been received, it’s then worth implementing a policy of ‘blind’ reviews. Here, the names and genders of applicants are removed from CVs before they are evaluated by the recruitment panel. This removes any unintended bias that might creep in and ensures the most suitable person is offered the job.
Ongoing professional development
Once new female staff members are employed, it’s important to ensure there are opportunities for ongoing professional development. Formal and informal mentoring programs should be established that link new staff with more experienced professionals who can provide guidance and advice.
One example of an external mentoring program is the Women Lead Australia initiative supported by global IT services company, HCL Technologies. This program involves pairing mentees with senior mentors who meet with them on a regular basis to discuss career planning and skills development.
Such mentoring programs help to ensure there is a pipeline of developing talent that will rise through the organisation to its highest levels. No one is self-made and it’s working with others in this way that can ensure employees will reach their full potential.
A journey, not a destination
It will naturally take time before the majority of organisations have a gender-balanced workforce, but that’s not to say that progress isn’t being made in many areas. Indeed, you only have to think back to the days when women were expected to leave the workforce as soon as they had children to realise how far things have already progressed.
There’s no question that the efforts required to achieve diversity are worth it. When you consider the world of the future, where there will be increasing usage of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics, having half the population under represented will mean many of the potential benefits may not be realised. Let’s take steps today to address the issue.
Joseph Smith is Director, Products Cloud Business at Optus.
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