Men, you’re on notice…

Yawn, yawn, Another Rudd Government review. Except this one could have a major impact on business. Yesterday the Government announced that the decline in women in leadership roles and a pay gap between male and female earnings is prompting a review of its equal opportunity laws.

The Government has a point. Recent data from Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace shows that figures on female participation in the workplace have spiralled downwards since 2006.

It is hard to believe but more than half the companies in the ASX 200 have no women on their boards. Only 2% of chairs and chief executives of boards are women, only 8.3% of board directors are women and only 10% at the executive management level are women.

The fact that these figures are so low – and in decline – while in other countries they are increasing, begs the question: does the Government need to legislate to bring about radical change? And is this what the Minister for the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek is hinting at when she said yesterday that the review will look at “a new approach”?

The key issue according to senior business leaders is that men in senior positions hire within their own networks.

So how do you fix that? One quick way is to introduce quotas. One country where quotas have worked really well is Norway. In 2003, the Norwegian Government introduced a legal requirement that 40% of boards be filled by females. By 2008 most of them had complied, and the proportion of female board members had increased from 7% in 2003 to 39% in July 2008.

Support for the introduction of quotas is growing. In March, former Victorian chief commissioner of police Christine Nixon, and Margaret Jackson, former director of Qantas and ANZ Bank and director of Flexigroup, called for the introduction of quotas, saying they expected far greater progress by now.

Senior business leader Margaret Jackson, former director of Qantas and ANZ Bank, says women in exit interviews say that men in senior positions like to surround themselves with men “who look like them and talk like them”.

Nixon maintains that the way she made an impact on the ‘blokes’ culture in the police force was to get the ‘boys’ to stop just considering each other for positions. Nixon says she would ask for regular updates to ensure women were being promoted to senior roles. She would also pull women out of specialist jobs and give them experience they would not get otherwise, that would then assist them gain promotion. “You have to open up the process,” she says.

You can expect outrage from many in the men’s quarters. There will be all sorts of arguments put forward so men can keep hiring in their own image. The main argument will be that people should be promoted on merit and based on results. And they won’t see any irony in that at all.

The review will begin with the release of an issues paper that starts the consultation process, expected to take several months to complete. With growing support for quotas from senior female business leaders and an outspoken sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, being able to boost their calls for change by abysmal female leadership figures, this could well be one review to watch.

Hopefully the debate itself will force the blokes keeping women out of boardrooms to reflect on the way they hire and we can avoid sledgehammer legislation. On the other hand, haven’t we been saying that for decades?

What do you think? Do you support quotas as a way to get more women in leadership positions? Let us know by commenting below.



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