Businesses must develop strategies to help women in middle management ranks move to the top of a company’s leadership, according to new research which has revealed workplace equality levels have not improved.
The report, Critical steps to achieving gender parity in Australia, conducted by consulting agency Bain Company, has confirmed an ongoing trend: women are still at a disadvantage in the workforce.
With only seven female chief executives out of the ASX top 200 companies, the survey has found a need for businesses to address career opportunities for women at junior and middle management levels in order to prepare them for more senior roles.
Despite the division between men and women in the higher ranks of company hierarchies, 70% of women aimed to be in a senior business position, but a shocking third of the respondents believed this wouldn’t happen in their current workplace.
For the report, 815 members of the Australian business community were surveyed, with more than half the respondents in senior management or board positions.
Out of the respondents, 88% of all men and women said they valued gender parity in the workplace.
But four in 10 companies listed on the ASX still do not have policies in place to further gender diversity.
The director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Helen Conway, told SmartCompany organisations struggle to hold on to their female talent.
“The findings of this report are consistent with the Agency’s 2012 Australian Census of Women Leadership which found Australian companies have failed to develop and maintain a strong pipeline of female talent.
“The agency urges all employers to align gender equality with business strategy, treat it as a business priority and apply the same discipline to it as they would to any other business initiative,” she says.
Prue Gilbert of Prue Gilbert Consulting spoke to SmartCompany and said the key issue was focusing on retention of an organisation’s key talent, and not making it too easy for women to leave during those “middle years”.
“Managers haven’t been trained to redesign jobs and accommodate flexibility and it makes it too easy for women to leave.
“Organisations need to invest in women in those middle years because if you can retain them with coaching and support, there will be a bigger pool of candidates both male and female to promote later,” she says.
In large corporations men were nine times as likely to be in an executive role compared to women.
The report found 52% of men thought women had equal opportunities to be promoted in the workplace to senior roles, compared to only 15% of women.
Gilbert says this difference comes down to an unconscious bias.
“Women are just far more aware of the inequality because they have to experience it and plan for it.
“There is also a lot of unconscious bias that comes into it too, decisions can appear to be equal, but I often advise women to take off their engagement rings when going for job interviews,” she says.
For businesses to increase gender parity, the report suggested organisations need to work on retaining their female employees and creating an atmosphere of diversity.
Conway says for this to be achieved managers need to take a harder stance.
“This requires leadership, focus, and strong accountability where managers are held to account – and remunerated – for achieving results,” she says.