Towards a Different Future: Positively Transforming the Gender Divide. Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. As director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), I’m delighted to be speaking today about a topic that is very close to my heart - namely, the need to take engage men to work with us to take action to accelerate the pace of change to achieve “real” EEO for women in the workplace.
In my 11 years of attending EEO conferences; debating and discussing problems and solutions to critical women’s workplace issues, I find it stimulating, but also very frustrating that I am always speaking to a 95% female audience on how to drive the change process.
Don’t get me wrong; I greatly value, both personally and professionally, the wonderful network of supportive women both inside the organisations where I’ve worked, and outside, who have kept me sane in my role as a change agent rattling the cage of equity.
But the time has come for all of us to move beyond preaching to the converted, to unite in our common beliefs, to strengthen our networks, to drive change with renewed energy and purpose to address the important women’s issues directly to those organisational leaders who can initiate and drive change.
I believe that legislatively driven AA & EEO, with the strong support of Australian women - and I am delighted that many of you are here - has been very successful at opening up the door of the ‘giraffe house’ to let the elephant in.
Today women can pretty much apply for any job in Australia and be seriously considered for the role!
However, after 15 years of legislation to create a foundation for change in workplaces toward a more women-friendly environment, we have not been successful in changing the way the giraffe house is structured internally - in that, the elephant can’t fit through some of the doors of the giraffe house, or get up the stairs.
The challenge we now face in Australian organisations is how to address the way things work inside the giraffe house.
All too familiar concerns such as pay equity, women’s career development (from the shop floor up) and work & family issues - are critical barriers for women and have proven extremely difficult to address and fix.
After working for 11 years as an internal change agent in EEO, first in the State Public Service in Victoria, then in the oil industry and then in the finance sector, I have learned that the way to achieve any progress for women in large organizations, is to work with the men.
Why is this so?
Because in both the public sector and the private sector, men still control most of the resources in organizations - both people and dollars - it is crucial that they are across and understand the issues and are “onboard” with the solutions, as they have to “walk the talk” of the strategic decisions an organization has to make to deliver “real change” for women.
All 3 organisations that I was fortunate to work in were committed to improving equal opportunity for women - but needed help in how to go about it!
In my current role as Director EOWA, my 22-person agency spends most of its time working with typically HR staff - who are predominantly female - in the private sector and community organizations with more that 100 employees.
The request we most often receive from these people is to assist them to get EEO /diversity on the corporate agenda, which means having to engage the managers who hold the resource strings - who remain predominantly male - and convince them to integrate these changes into the business strategy.
At EOWA, after 2 years of implementing the amended Act and developing tools and assisting employers, we are expanding our strategy to “engage” organisation leaders in championing change.
It is time for us to communicate with business leaders - many of whom in the past have demonstrated reluctance to listen or to embrace change - to hear our message and be motivated to take action to enable women to fully contribute in their organsiations.
As part of working with our stakeholders, we have become customer-focused, using positive language to bring our clients along with us, albeit with a lot of encouragement and support.
Our aim is for employers to view us as a partner rather than an adversary, to communicate in a way that, as Dale Carnegie said way back in the 50s, will ‘win us friends and influence people’.
My experience in dealing with CEO’s and Managing Directors is, that if you can help them identify the one reason why they have to look at new ways to grow female talent within their organisation, then, and only then will the giraffe house be rebuilt from within. (Suncorp Metway CEO story)
So, as women here today who have waited far too long for measurable and significant change in the imbalance of gender equality, where do we go from here?
How do you pursue a women’s agenda in a man’s world - such as in agriculture or the oil industry - or for that fact in the finance sector - when 65% of the workforce is female, yet top management is 90% male????
Sadly, in Australia, - and according to recent ILO research, throughout the world - this imbalance has barely shifted despite the best attempts of legislated benchmarking and quantum changes in community attitudes towards women’s workplace issues.
We all recognize that change is needed, but the real challenge is : who is going to step forward to initiate and drive real change??
The good news is that in my experience a number of senior male executives are willing to be engaged and take a leadership role on the agenda - you just have to find them!!!
But …! You also have to identify their business needs and convince them of “what’s in it for them”, to attract their support and enable them to take action.
You also need to go where the door is open or slightly ajar.
I learned early on to not bother knocking on doors that were tightly closed.
The good news is that in my experience time and the tidal change of competition finally catches up with these recalcitrant managers (although sometimes it can take too long for my liking!!!)
In the Victorian Agriculture Department, I worked in partnership with 6 regional managers (all male - who had all the money and the power to make change) and who could identify untapped female talent in their organizations and were willing to take risks to develop it.
This was during Joan Kirner’s leadership in Victoria so there was a great deal of kudos to be scored by executives and managers in supporting EEO for women in the organization.
In the oil industry, I was fortunate to work with inspiring men - one head of succession planning, and the other the technical manager (and probably the best manager I have ever worked with in ter ms of technical and people skills) who was responsible for growing the organization’s talent.
Both men were personally committed to developing female talent - and with good reason, because the company had calculated that every female engineer who walked out the door was costing $150K to replace and they both also saw it as the “right thing to do”.
Both had extremely high credibility in the organization; I worked in partnership with them to drive a change agenda that saw the organization achieve great outcomes for both women and the business which was recognised in the organization winning the Corporate Work & Family awards twice, as well as an Institute of Engineers award for turning around the attrition rate of female engineers.
We also cost-benefited work-based childcare on the basis that if we retained 2 middle management women a year after their maternity leave we would be ahead!!!
At the same time we also had a female Director who actively supported women in the organization and who specifically supported me through the change process.
She asked all the right questions in the boardroom - but allowed the men to officially ‘run’ the change process - which in my experience results in less backlash (from both men and women) in the organisation.
I have learned that the drive for change may come from the bottom of the organization; however, to effectively address the structure of the giraffe house - change has to be driven from the top.
Because we have to change the way we do things in organizations if women are going to be able to fully contribute to the best of their ability.
We have to put in place contemporary people management policies and practice that reflect the needs of today’s diverse workforce, and which support the flexibility and caring responsibilities of women and increasing numbers of men.
Managers (still mainly men) at all levels have to “walk this talk” of these policies e.g. appoint a pregnant female to a managerial job if she is the best candidate and create a workplace culture that is diversity friendly - not diversity ‘toxic’!!!
Female staff need to be seen not as “lesser” contributors, or not committed to the company, and it needs to be OK to leave the organization at a reasonable time to meet family commitments.
I have also learned that the many female staff will not engage in the change agenda unless key senior male managers with high organisational credibility take the lead.
In my experience many young women see it as potentially career limiting to be “labeled” as someone who speaks up on women’s issues and will remain reluctant to become involved on women’s initiatives - such as female networking forums, “women’s only” career development etc - because they fear it will be career limiting.
Many women are not willing to take the risk - unless it is clear that the organization supports women who speak up, and demonstrates that it wishes to learn what to do differently in order to capture female talent.
The sad part is that these women are “in denial” because however much they act like a man, they are different, and receive different and often lesser opportunities at this point in time and the sooner they realize it the better.
In all of the organizations I have worked, there were typically a number of women who were willing to support other women and who were prepared to stand up and be counted on women’s issues.
However, it is my experience that outcomes are better if you engage the majority of women in an organization - because there is much less chance of those opposing the change process being able to divide and conquer and undermine the change process. Women are encouraged to share their stories with key male managers rather than one person becoming the advocate for all women in the organization ( which can be a challenging and lonely task in my experience).
So how do you do that??
You ensure that the senior male managers invite women to female networking functions - and the majority of women will come.
You also ensure that as part of the welcome the men “lay it on the line” that the reason they are there is a sign of their commitment to change.
They need to admit that they are keen to hear from their female staff about what is working well - but also, what needs to change. The major challenge we women face is to get male executives to put women employment issues on the strategic organisational agenda; not to delegate it to the HR Department, where it becomes a “fridge-magnet” sitting visibly on the surface of an organisation without ever permeating the management core of the business.
We also need to help these senior executives to “get it”.
For many men, the corporate culture is like water to a fish - they actually can’t see the “small” but frustrating day-by-day challenges women face in the workplace at all levels.
For many men, it’s not until their highly assertive daughters start to experience some of the discriminatory behavior in the workplace that they open up their eyes .
Companies that make a difference create a safe work environment for women to raise issues and share their stories about what it is really like working in the organization.
However, it takes courage and long-term commitment to drive change. Currently the CEO of ALCOA, Mike Baltzell is driving a major change process in WA.
He has appointed a professional female manager to run one of his three mines and has just put another woman in charge of one of his plants.
He is shaking up the culture and having to deal with male backlash - but he is willing to do so because he believes that this is something the company has to do to maintain its competitiveness.
Finally, let’s acknowledge that men and women are different… not better or worse - just different and both have a valuable contribution to make if we are to achieve a shift in progress.
Science knows it, but political correctness does everything it can to deny it.
So what do men and women really want?
For modern men, not much has changed over the centuries. Eighty-seven per cent of men today still say their work is the most important thing in their life (pause) and 99% say they want a great sex life.
(And we can all choose to ignore the other 1%)!!
For modern women, however, many of their priorities are very different to those of their mothers and grandmothers.
Many women have chosen professional careers because they want some of the things men have: economic self sufficiency, prestige and power.
Overall, occupational choices haven’t changed much for men, with careers such as banking, law and industry still being their number one choice.
There has been an increase in the number of men entering traditionally female jobs, but they remain in the minority.
For women, however, some things have changed, now 84% of working women in the USA are part of the information and service sectors.
In the western world, between half and two-thirds of all new businesses are owned by women, and women now hold over 40 percent of executive, administration and management posts.
In traditional male hierarchies, women are still struggling to get the top jobs and here, perhaps is the irony:
Many women look at the glass ceiling, find it all too hard and simply give up their ambitions. ·
Others shatter the ceiling, see what is beyond, don’t like what they see, and move on.
And a small percentage of women who aspire to the top and succeed, cling to what they have achieved and defend their status, sometimes to the detriment of other females in the organization and sometimes supporting the development of other female talent and trying to improve the work culture for them - but with minimal success.
In most political systems, less than five per cent of politicians are female although they seem to attract 50 per cent of the media coverage.
So, if you are a woman working in a traditional male hierarchy, you have one or two choices for success: one is to quit and get a job where women have a fair go, … the other is to behave more like a man!
The way forward for EOWA is to forego political correctness, to speak to business leaders on their terms, to keep an open mind and foster inclusivity rather than exclusivity.
Let’s just admit that men and women are not the same, and start CELEBRATING our differences!
And more importantly, recognise that THE DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES EACH OF US BRINGS TO THE TABLE, IF FULLY VALUED BY EACH OTHER, WILL IMPROVE THE OUTCOMES FOR WORKING WOMEN, AUSTRALIAN ORGANISATIONS - BOTH GOVERNMENT & PRIVATE SECTOR AND FOR AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY!!!!!!!!!!!.
This Speech was by Ms Fiona Krautil, Director of Equal Opportunity in the Workplace Agency (formerly known as the Affirmative Action Agency)
28 August 2001 Australian Women Speak Conference Commonwealth Office of the Status for Women