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Re-thinking Return: It is Time to Reframe the Gender Diversity Debate

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been involved in a number of conversations about promotions where the concept of hiring more female talent was described as ‘a risk’. The word risk is interesting to me, as it is very rarely applied to the hiring or promotion of men and fundamentally implies that we do not have confidence in the female talent being considered for roles.

When challenged, each of the leaders I was speaking to was not conscious of the fact that they had been referring to hiring female candidates as ‘taking a risk’, but did acknowledge that they felt a level of discomfort hiring anyone who was outside the tried and tested worker model…

This sentiment, of women being seen as ‘risks’ was written up in the Wall Street Journal, which suggested that despite knowing the benefits associated with hiring and promoting women, there is an intrinsic lack of confidence in women by executives responsible for talent management.

Today, Autopia and UN Women NC Australia have released the second paper in their ‘Re-Think’ series. Re-thinking Return explores exactly what is to be gained by increased gender diversity and inclusion, and what costs are associated with continued inaction.

In releasing this paper, we are seeking to ignite a new conversation in Australia about the rate of progress being made towards gender equality and call on business leaders to review whether their commitments are bold enough.

Re-thinking Return follows the first in the series Re-thinking Merit which made the case for organisations to rethink their merit processes and understand that significant bias and subjectivity was not resulting in the best performing teams being designed.

Imagine if we reframed the risks we were most afraid of.  Rather than the risk being the hiring or promotion of a candidate who dared to be different from the accepted norm in an organisation, what if we encouraged our people to see the greatest risk to our business as not having diversity?

In 2005, Deloitte sent a team to pitch to a prospective client.  They were well-prepared and knew the client’s needs intimately.  They failed to win the work though, with the client reflecting that the all-male team who delivered the pitch were simply not likely to reflect the best talent or understand the company’s clients.  There are many more stories in recent years of where client work has been lost because companies have failed to demonstrate their understanding of diversity and inclusion.  Diversity has become both an indicator of brand and part of an organisation’s reputational capital.   To this end, not having diversity should be seen as a serious risk to business.

Continuing on the theme of re-framing risk, businesses should be concerned about the business relationships they miss out on developing, where teams are not diverse.   It is widely accepted that the effect of ‘homophily’ where customers and clients are likely to develop relationships with people who are like them, means that where companies lack diversity, they are likely to miss out on business opportunities and networks.

We need to recognise that diversity is the gateway to developing new business relationships, not a ‘risk’. Fundamentally, we need to stop seeing the hiring and promotion of women as a ‘risk’ and start addressing the real risk, which is that without more women and diversity, our organisations will fail to thrive in the long run.

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Posted by Julie McKay

Julie McKay is the Gender Advisor to the Chief of the Australian Defence Force and a consultant on diversity and inclusions for many leading Australian businesses.

Julie has held the role of Executive Director for UN Women NC Australia for 9 years, finishing with the organisation in April 2016. During thistime, UN Women NC Australia raised more than $2.5M for programs that support the empowerment of women and girls in the developing world. She has worked for a number of years as an advisor to the Australian Defence Force, becoming the inaugural Gender Advisor to CDF in April 2014.

Julie is the Chair of the Women’s College Council and sits on the PwC Diversity Advisory Board. She is the Convenor of the QLD Male Champions of Change group and has worked with a range of companies to enhance their gender diversity strategies, implement policies on domestic and family violence and ensure that they are accessing their full talent pool.

Julie has completed an Executive MBA at the University of Sydney, a Masters in Public Policy from ANU and was the ACT Young Australian of the Year in 2013 and Telstra Young Business Women of the Year in 2012.

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