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Tony Abbott shines light on gender diversity

The fact that Australia has only one female MP in the newly formed 19 person cabinet shines a massive light on the issue of female underrepresentation, not only in leadership positions in politics, but across the broader business community.

The dominant masculine culture in our workplaces has persisted for decades and is reinforced every night on television and in other daily media. Gender stereotypes are often exhibited in small and subtle ways that have a significant cumulative effect over time. By way of example, Gail Kelly, CEO Westpac, is regularly referred to as a great female leader but rarely as a great leader. In contrast, her male counterparts are simply referred to as great leaders; it is very rare for a male to be referred to as a great male leader.

Very few organisations really understand the extent of the male domination of their cultures, the conscious and unconscious biases behind the formation of their culture, and what they need to do to change their culture, assuming that is what they want.

Insync’s research, and that of others, has shown that the pervasiveness of unconscious gender bias means that decisions about legitimate leadership are routinely biased against women and in favour of men. Surprisingly, the research shows that women are just as biased as men and young women are just as biased as older women. What this means is that most men and women discriminate and tolerate gender discrimination in favour of men when it comes to leadership without even knowing. This includes Tony Abbott and his senior liberal party colleagues.

Significant and sustained change is only likely to be achieved in politics, across the community and in workplaces if a bright light is shone on this issue together with a determined, systematic, well-planned and persistent long-term approach. Based on current political and organisational priorities it is unlikely that the persistent, systematic and long-term plans to bring about gender equity will be put in place and accordingly significant change is likely to take decades, if not generations.

A small number of leaders, however, have recognised the need for a determined, systematic, well planned long-term approach if systemic bias is to be overcome and if gender diversity in leadership is to be achieved. A number of media commentators have reported that the Labor Party has taken a much more systematic, well planned long-term approach to gender diversity than the Liberal Party in recent years. They have said that the Labor Party set affirmative action quotas for female representation in winnable seats at 35% in 1994 and increased it to 40% in 2002. Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had 11 women in his ministerial team before being defeated at the 2013 Federal election.

Like the Labor party, there are a small number of organisations that have adopted a systematic, well planned long term approach to achieving gender diversity at their senor levels and their achievements speak for themselves. The four large Australian banks and Telstra are good examples. They have up to 40% of women in senior management positions compared with an average of around 10% for most other ASX companies.

Organisations and political parties that make a long-term commitment to gender diversity understand the significant business advantages of gender diversity and other forms of diversity. There is overwhelming evidence that organisations with gender-diverse boards and senior executive teams perform much better than those with male-dominated teams.

Insync’s research titled Gender Agenda: unlocking the potential of diversity in the boardroom, revealed that gender-diverse boards are more effective and add more value than male-dominated boards because gender-diverse boards:

  • make fewer assumptions, apply fresher thinking and have a wider debate
  • have an increased focus on problem-solving
  • have more productive discussions and greater unity
  • are more conscientious
  • have greater self-reflexivity
  • use women’s interpersonal skills to improve board dynamics

Insync helps organisations understand their current state, the barriers to achieving gender diversity and the commitment and steps needed to begin the journey to building a more diverse and inclusive leadership team. Insync Surveys recently joined with Diversity Partners to assist Energy Australia. Energy Australia’s review and feedback included the following: “We recently partnered with Insync to roll out our inaugural Diversity Survey across our organisation. The team at Insync understood our business and were therefore able to anticipate our needs and truly partner with us to develop a best practise, yet fit for purpose survey. Throughout the project, the team were responsive to our requests, timely with their communication and maintained a friendly approach. I would definitely recommend Insync!

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