What the UK can learn from gender diversity in Australia

9 Sep

The UK is apparently behind Australia when it comes to attitudes to boardroom diversity, according to a report in People Management. It quotes former Australian government cabinet minister Ros Kelly saying she was surprised that the UK hadn’t made more progress in improving the number of women in the boardroom. She blamed the old boys’ network, commuting and entrenched cultural attitudes for holding women back.

While the Lord Davies review in the UK has rejected boardroom quotas for now – instead calling on voluntary measures to secure 25% female representation at board level in FTSE 100 companies by 2015 – many companies are unsure about meeting those targets. But in Australia there are stricter plans afoot, under the 2013 Workplace Gender Equality Act, to oblige companies with more than 100 employees to report their performance against a set of gender-related metrics.

Interestingly, a senior female executive in Australia – former investment banker Carolyn Hewson – has set out what she believes are two major ways to promote more gender diversity in the workplace: one, is to embrace the ‘nanny culture‘ – though the cost of nannies in Australia is said to be prohibitive  – and the second is to have more men working flexible hours, to do their share of the childcare.

While I like Ms Hewson’s ideas of men role modelling work-life balance, I suspect that what will make the most difference to diversity in the workplace will be when organisations are legally required to report their gender make-up. As the UK is currently suggesting, voluntary targets may not be enough of a driver. As with many things, it may be a case of ‘what gets measured gets done’.



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