The benefits of having a diverse workforce are immense but according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2011, labour force participation rate of females at 65% is much lower than the 80% for males in the same age group. It has not changed much since then.
Why does this gender imbalance still exist in the workplace and what can be done about it?
Importance of gender diversity at work
By limiting diversity parameters, employers effectively limit the number of candidates and their chances of finding the right person for the job. A fully diverse workforce communicates an organisation’s commitment to equality and makes you a choice employer. This also converts into high retention rates.
According to The Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), if the UK is to remain competitive, UK employers will need to have recruited “an additional 2.2 million new managers between 2007 and 2017”. This would be impossible if women, who make up 46% of the UK workforce, aren’t effectively included. A study by the Catalyst showed that companies with more women board directors showed a return on equity that was 53%, and a return on invested capital that was 66%, higher than companies with no female directors.
A survey was conducted of Australian employees by HAYS with regard to diversity in the workplace. 58% responded that they would like to see more diversity.
What are the obstacles to a diverse workforce?
Education and career choices
The number of women who opt for STEM subjects science, technology, mathematics and engineering is lower worldwide. This is unfortunate as these subjects are currently in demand in the labour market and will continue to be the required qualifications in growth industry sectors.
Studies consistently show a major drop in the number of women from the workforce mid- career. Consider the representation of this drop as shown in The Davies Report:
Lack of flexible hours, the “think leader, think male” phenomenon, and gender related stereotypes and bias’s affect the career growth of women.
Gender based barriers are one of the top reasons why companies lose female employees. A McKinsey study showed that 27% of women had experienced some form of gender-based discrimination in their role. An organisation that has predominantly male employees, which is most often the case in sectors like construction, mining and the sciences, also tends towards unconscious biases and gender stereotyping. This can adversely affect a woman’s role in an organisation forcing her to leave the labour market or not opt for leadership roles in the prime of her career.
What can be done?
A few steps in the right direction can go a long way in correcting the existing gender imbalance and creating a more diverse workforce.
1) Encouraging young women to take up STEM subjects will go a long way in increasing the labour force of women. Organisations could take up the initiative to set up career guidance workshops in schools and universities with this aim.
2) Implementing a clear cut, standardised organisation policy for hiring and retaining women, with emphasis on equal career progression opportunities. The inclusion of women in the interview panel at all levels of hiring has showed great results in many organisations.
3) Developing or placing women in mentoring programs where they can benefit from the example and experience of women leaders.
4) Intensifying the effort to remove unconscious bias among employees by fostering an equal opportunity culture within the organisation.
5) Working with employees to understand the barriers to organisational culture by creating awareness at all levels. Making gender diversity a part of the organisation’s vision goes a long way in fostering a culture that actively works to rectify the gender imbalance.
Flexibility in working hours has been a popular suggestion to overcome these barriers. 62% of women in the USA feel that family obligations and reduced mobility are impediments to their career growth. Interestingly, an Ernst & Young study showed that women “working flexibly waste just 11.1 per cent of working hours, compared to 14.5 per cent of their full-time counterparts.” And …. make flexibility in working hours available to everyone not just women!
What do you think? Are there any steps you’ve taken within your organisation to correct gender imbalances in the workforce?
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