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When it comes to bridging the gender gap we must go beyond the boardrooms


Although International Women’s Day is now behind us, we must not let the call for more gender equality in the workplace die down.

Diversity and inclusion experts, SeventeenHundred, recently called for Australia’s corporate leaders to do more than talk about women on boards and pay greater attention to the needs of the everyday professional female.

SeventeenHundred provides work-life, diversity and inclusion solutions that support organisations and their employees, offering services that help people balance work commitments and external responsibilities, with the aim of making life easier. It works with some of Australia’s largest corporates, including Broadspectrum, Downer, CBRE, Virgin Australia, Pfizer, and Dimension Data.

Don’t focus just on putting women on boards

SeventeenHundred’s Diversity and Work-Life Balance specialist, Fiona Hitchiner, said: “Getting more women on boards is a hot topic and an important one, but so much grassroots work needs to be done in the diversity and inclusion space that boardroom quotas have become a bit of a red herring.

“What corporate Australia urgently needs to do is develop a much deeper understanding and response to the needs of its broader female workforce whose aspirations may lie well outside the boardroom.

“A grassroots approach to diversity will reap the greatest dividends, allowing us to grow the next generation of female leaders as a force majeure within their occupations of choice and the broader community,” Hitchiner added.

Fiona Hitchiner
Fiona Hitchiner

What needs to be done about the gender gap?

Drawing from its deep database of over 160,000 professionals, SeventeenHundred has shared the top three issues that Australia’s professional workforce are looking to achieve in engaging with women in the workforce in 2016.

1. Workplace flexibility

Workplace flexibility is a major area of focus for professional women, who are often managing the needs of multiple stakeholders including an employer, children and ageing parents. Flexibility has come a long way.

However, organisations also need to focus on the stigma of unconscious bias against flexible working within the businesses. Until that has been addressed the upside of flexible work will not be realised as employees perceive that working to flexible hours will negatively impact career progression.

2. Career stagnation for carers

Too many women feel like their career slows once they take on the role of a carer. Having a “return to work or parent transition program” is one solution, however, organisations need to work hard to properly engage with those with responsibilities outside of work so that they continue to find the same opportunities for career advancement as well.

What we’ve found is that organisations are most effective with addressing concerns around career stagnation for carers when they approach carer’s leave from a three-stage approach; pre-leave, during leave and shortly after return to work

3. Parental leave change

Parents in the workforce, and especially women, have been left in the air on the future of parental leave schemes, which leaves them poorly equipped to plan ahead.

With the proposed changes to the government parental leave scheme, women remain interested in how the government and private sectors can come together to build an effective parental leave system.

This is more important now than ever, as it addresses the needs of 60 per cent of households in Australia that are now dual-income environments.