Is the push for gender equality creating unwanted repercussions from some men?

Last week, we wrapped up the second event of our #WomeninSTEM series following the premiere of our #WomeninSTEM panel event last year. It was an unprecedented opportunity for everyone to come together and address gender inequality within the workplace.

Joining us at our round-table breakfast were the following key industry players who shared their thoughts on how to provide further support to women in the workforce and push for gender equality:

As a global STEM recruitment specialist with over 30 years of experience, we have not only seen the lack of female representation in the STEM market but also the challenges that they face when pushing for gender equality – especially at the executive level. It was therefore interesting to hear from both men and women themselves about their experience with gender equality within their own organisation.

Below are key highlights from our Women in STEM panel discussion:

Some people perceive that gender equality must inevitably mean an unfair loss of opportunity for men. Do you agree?

Elizabeth Floyd, Senior Sales Team Manager – SThree Australia: I’ve had feedback from senior level executives that women often get jobs because of their gender and this perception is actually only getting worst. There is a trend at the moment where the blame is being put on gender diversity rather than the suitability of the person for the role. From the point of view of a recruitment firm, we have tried to steer the discussion away from that but it has been difficult. Another issue is whilst the pool of candidates can be diverse, the panel of interviewers might not be as gender-balanced – which may defeat the efforts of hiring managers and the purpose of having a gender-diversified pool of candidates. Not every firm has a process in place where they need to meet gender-diversity quotas or targets– especially at the executive level in smaller organisations. As a result, it has become increasingly hard to manage.

Annette Ashe: The focus should be on ensuring we get the right candidates for the role, whilst trying to achieve a gender-equal target.

What is the biggest challenge that women are facing in the workforce?

Elizabeth Floyd: The majority of feedback received from our senior female leaders is that having a child was the biggest barrier to their careers. From the moment you say you are pregnant, opportunities are not offered to you as much. We are therefore really trying to eliminate this. Last year we launched our in-house identiFy programme globally to provide further support to female leaders in the hopes that challenges like these are eradicated.

Jason Fischer: Most of the women that I’ve spoken to who came back from maternity leave, said that they really want to engage to show they are more than just a mother. This is a reflection of society’s perception on women and the need for change. Awareness programmes can hopefully change this but we also need our educational system to embrace the topic of gender equality along with the values with which we raise our kids.

What factors can help women in the workforce?

Sue Doherty: Flexibility is definitely a step towards gender equality. Flexibility and adopting agile ways of working allows businesses to focus on outputs instead of focussing how much time an individual spends in the office. Everyone can benefit from flexibility however you need strong leadership and the right tools to make is successful.

 Sandra Vaz:  Flexibility is key. For example, at PwC flexible working is a real possibility and you can work around your needs based also on the demands of your role. In my case, based on the scheduled meetings that I have, I might decide not to go into the office and just work from home, which helps productivity for me when I need to just get things done and also is a way of keeping my work-life balance in check. The way of working is also very reflective of the leadership team you work with as well. In a previous team I worked in, it was acceptable that leaders would work from home 2-3 times a week on a regular basis, this behaviour was emulated by most of the team based on their needs and it was widely accepted.  

Jason Fischer: It’s up to us to share this vision within our organisation and lead by example to really drive this home. Having this awareness from action groups and training programs will ensure that everyone is on the same page. In doing so, it will eventually work.

Is Australia bridging the gender gap at the director level?

Australia has surpassed the UK, Canada and the US in terms of female representation in the boardroom. The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) has indicated that there has been an increase in the number of female directors from 19.4% in 2015 to 29.7% of companies listed on Australia’s Securities Exchange top 200.

Angus Armour, AICD Managing Director relevantly stated that “Australia has heard the message about the value of gender diversity in boardrooms. Diverse boards are an antidote to group-think and lead to better outcomes for shareholders, consumers and the community”.

Australia has also successfully boosted female participation on its boards without gender quotas. Instead, the AICD has set itself a non-binding target of 30% women for ASX-listed companies. Angus was against quotas as his view is that quotas do not “achieve the type of cultural change you want to achieve”.

On this note, we’ve asked our guest speakers to share their opinions on gender quotas and whether quotas are a step towards achieving workplace equality.

Lisa Wong: I can see how gender equality will drive the focus on quotas. However, gender equality should also drive the behaviour that you want to improve within the team. There needs to be support structures in place to create an inclusive environment. For example, how you are including women who are going on maternity leave is equally as important as just satisfying a quota.

Sue Doherty: I don’t believe in quotas but I do believe in targets. My personal view is that women shouldn’t be viewed as a threat. Instead, there should be discussions around gender diversity and how to be more accepting of each other more broadly, how to actually learn and grow from each other should be an ongoing discussion. Again, strong leadership, advocates and role models are needed to challenge stereotypes and remove barriers. 

Jason Fischer: I definitely agree. Achieving gender equality just for the sake of getting numbers is not the right reason for doing it. Businesses who do that really struggle as there is no support from above as it is just a KPI that needs to be hit and doesn’t really mean anything to leadership. Having this real meaning behind it and taking ownership is really important. Gender inclusion is key.

What are your thoughts on female representation in the workforce?

Our discussion shed light on how there should be a societal shift in perception for organisations to fully embrace gender equality. It also included the need to break down stereotypes and barriers starting with those at the executive level who can create the most impact if they were to share their advocacy for gender equality with their teams.

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Huxley is part of the larger SThree Group.

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