With women playing a more important role in the Australian workforce than ever before, how can companies better utilise their diverse and unique talents? In 1970, only 39.5% of Australian women aged between 25 and 64 years of age, participated in the labour market. By 2017, that number had risen to around 72%. While societal changes have had a significant impact, there can be no denying the role technology has played in the creation of a more adaptable work environment and the engagement of a more diverse workforce.
Never before have more Australian professionals required less to do more, both in terms of the need to be physically present and the financial requirements of remote work. For example, the advent of reliable internet access has allowed businesses to offer flexible working arrangements, including the opportunity to work from home. This is sure to have impacted positively on the number of women in Australia working through their family-focused years.
Online communications hubs such a Facetime, Zoom and Skype have facilitated the same type of direct communication usually reserved for offices. Importantly, this impacts positively on the overall environmental footprint and limits unnecessary spending on travel related expenses.
Access to things we now consider to be necessary technology, such as mobile phones and laptops have allowed the Australian workforce to be productive and effective regardless of locality.
The assumption could be made that as access to technology grows, so does the rate in which women actively participate in the workforce.
We still have a way to go
But how has this impacted the nature of business in Australia? Have businesses adapted, and if so, is that speed of change in line with global and societal expectations?
According to research from the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the results at board level have been mixed. While the percentage of female representation has increased by 6.2% since 2015, and women have comprised 50% of new appointments to ASX 200 boards to the month of June in 2018, other statistics are less heartening. Women still only represent 28.2% of directors on ASX 200 boards and three boards still have no female representation whatsoever.
At a senior management level, the statistics are no better. Although woman make up 47% of the total workforce and have the same or higher qualifications as their male counterparts, they still only represent 16.5% of CEOs and 29.7% of key management personnel.
All this culminates in challenging questions for business owners, senior executives and shareholders: is the way Australia currently does business effective and responsible? This question isn’t being asked from a social responsibility standpoint but rather with a view towards business effectiveness. Can senior management effectively lead diverse workforces if the management team composition does not itself reflect its workforce diversity? Can Australia’s largest corporations deliver innovative goods and services without actually internalising diverse vision and leadership?
Looking to the future
The same can be said of the Australian employment market, where women constitute 36.7% of all full-time employees and 69.0% of all part-time employees. Within this 69% lies an incredible opportunity for businesses of all sizes, if they rethink their business model by reconsidering what a CEO or a senior executive work pattern looks like.
What if a CEO wasn’t sitting in a corner office until 9:30pm, replying to emails and negotiating with overseas investors? What if she was at work three days a week, spending the remainder of her time working from home? What if her meetings with other senior executives happened online? What would the cost to the business be, and how much money could be saved? How much would productivity become prioritised over long hours, when the badge of honour related to “I’m working so many hours at the moment” is taken away? How much would the direct and indirect costs of stress be reduced, and how would it impact on innovation? What would other senior staff start to wonder if they could live life on their terms if effectiveness were prioritised over attendance?
How else can technology such as online freelancing platforms, video conferencing, team collaboration tools, or some yet unknown technology help us bring more women to the top tiers of business? Innovation does not come about without risk, and while the nature of business in Australia is always changing, it’s more as a result of global or industry-centric pressures than a national need to lead the pack. In fact, the argument could easily be made that Australian business is reacting to circumstances as they are thrust upon them and are therefore missing opportunities. At the core of change is leadership – the confidence to make changes proactively and not surrender control to the direction of an industry or organisation.
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