Beyond family-friendly?

Thank you to all those who shared with colleagues and social media our recent Optimiss research challenging perceptions about working women.

Optimiss commissioned the Australian Bureau of Statistics to carry out the research that found 64% of women aged 25 to 54 and working full time have no children under 18. Further, when examining that same age range we found 79% of women working full-time and 53% working part-time have no children under 12.

We released the research to the media last week resulting in reports in BRW, The Australian, Australian Women Online and Pro Bono Australia amongst others. You can view the media release here.

Optimiss commissioned the research for two reasons:

1. A number of companies were telling us how the number of women progressing through their organisation was stagnating but they didn’t know why.

2. At the same time we were also talking to many talented women without children or without young children about their frustrations progressing to a more senior level in their organisation and or sector despite having the skills, experience and education needed to succeed.

While we suspected there was a mismatch between our perceptions of working women and the reality, the number of women without children or young children surprised us too when we first saw the research results.

Optimiss applauds those companies who have put time and effort into creating an environment where women can have both a family and career success and we do not want to see family-friendly work practices take a back seat.

However, what we also want to see is a willingness amongst employers to discuss the tough stuff that will achieve significant improvements in gender equality.

We need companies to ask themselves the hard questions but to do so with open curiosity and not closed defensiveness. Do we reward men and women of equal merit differently in our organisation? Is access to our bonuses and other financial rewards and incentives skewed to our male executives? When we picture the ideal candidate for an internal promotion or an external hire, do we automatically scan our networks for suitable men? Do we believe greater gender diversity will really benefit our organisation? Are we investing in the success of our male executives with mentoring and stretch opportunities but neglecting the women we hire and or promote?

There are companies that have a genuine interest in asking these questions and exploring answers even if these are confronting. Ikea, Deloitte, Medtronic, L’Oréal, Hewlett Packard, BBDO and Accenture to name some. These are companies that have used the Gender Equality Project Tool – a tool that helps companies diagnose their current state of play and then plan a way forward.

The tool was developed by the Swiss-based foundation The Gender Equality Project. The development process was substantial and involved consultations with experts Harvard, Yale, INSEAD, and the OECD Development Centre and other leading institutions.

Firms are measured in five areas:

  • equal pay for equivalent work;
  • recruitment and promotion;
  • training and mentoring;
  • work-life balance; and
  • company culture.

Of course we want everyone to use the tool and work with us, however, what we want most of all is for companies to be open to new practices to improve the gender balance. It is time to look beyond just “family friendly” to achieve the results we need.