What are you doing to improve gender diversity?
Max Bomben – Managing Director – Calibre Consulting
As a father with two ambitious 20-plus-year-old daughters, gender equality is a subject close to my heart. I’ve seen and counselled them through a range of challenges – many based purely on their gender. My older daughter was a professional athlete. I say ‘was’ as the pay gap between male and female players in professional basketball leagues is profound – with women being paid significantly less. Given this huge disparity, it was not possible for her to continue to follow her passion. Did she make fewer sacrifices than her male counterparts? Is the game less interesting or challenging when women play? Of course not – yet the barrier exists.
It’s fair to say in the engineering space, women are under-represented, particularly in senior management. As a male and in a senior role, I would like to help champion the change. I believe there is also a lot more that we could be doing to support women. Rather than being a spectator and making comments from the sidelines, I decided to be part of the response by becoming a signatory to Consult Australia’s Male Champions of Change.
Unfortunately, there is no simple or single solution.
To empower women and foster true change there needs to be sustained and multifaceted approach. Having robust conversations (albeit at times uncomfortable) around pay disparity, promotion of women, supportive policies and the more elusive barriers such as gender bias (both unconscious and conscious) will allow us to move forward. Burying our heads in the sand and claiming there are simply not enough qualified female professionals is no longer an acceptable excuse.
The same could be said in the political sphere. If women are 50% of our population (and I think they are slightly more), shouldn’t they have 50% of the political representation? Dr Joy McCann, Senior Researcher in Politics and Public Administration at Australian Parliament House wrote a summary paper on the status of women in parliament and executive government. Her 2014 research shows that women comprised of less than a third of all parliamentarians and one-fifth of all ministers. Hardly equal representation.
Research suggests workplaces that are gender diverse are higher performing and more productive. According to the United Nations, women need to reach a critical mass of at least 30 percent to truly influence decision-making in parliaments. What percentage should we aim for in private industry or across professional services? Management advisory firms such as McKinsey, Deloitte, EY and Policy Institutes repetitively cite research which demonstrate how firms which embrace gender diversity (and diversity in general) are far more profitable than their industry counterparts who are not. And yet the divide continues?
As Managing Director of a mid-sized consultancy, we have some catching up to do; but as a starting point, I am committing to doing something to support women who want to move into leadership roles. Equally important is the need to support women when they return to work after having children. If it means changing the way we do business so women can actually make a choice about their career trajectory, then let’s change.
Over a number of years, Calibre Consulting has encouraged young women to look at engineering as a career option, with programs such as Dream Big and our Graduate Program. I’m proud to say this year in Australia and New Zealand, 52% of our graduate intake will be female.
Whilst we have made progress in empowering younger women in the organisation, we need to do more for women as they progress from a graduate to senior engineer to executive manager. Whilst change won’t happen overnight, I have established an internal committee to drive initiatives, looking at everything from retention, flexible work hours, job sharing, succession planning, maternity leave payments and mentoring.
I encourage anyone feeling like they aren’t supported to speak up. If you see there is an opportunity – don’t second guess yourself, put your hand up. Research tells us that there is a confidence gap and this is one factor which is holding women back.
No matter if you are male or female surely everyone should have the same opportunities. It’s as simple as starting the conversation to drive change.