GENDER diversity in senior organisational roles has improved across many countries, yet there continues to be a deep-rooted inequality that prevents the rise of more women to top positions in management.
The structures of organisations were typically developed when men invariably populated the majority of the workplace. These structures tend to favour men’s careers, and allow men to advance at a much quicker rate than women.
At a Breakfast Forum organised by the HR Research Centre at University College Cork recently, Professor Carol Kulik of the University of South Australia, demonstrated the long road that remains to be travelled for gender parity when noting that 2018 has seen more CEOs in Australia’s top companies named Andrew than all female CEOs combined.
While the numbers of women in CEO roles globally makes for sobering reading, Prof. Kulik did point to the need for positivity in the improvements being made and recommended the need to celebrate those organisations that are leading the way in gender diversity results.
However, to put this progress into context, Social Justice Ireland published a report earlier this year which shows we are one of the worst countries in Europe for gender equality in senior management roles. While female representation has generally increased in Ireland, it is well below the EU average. The number of women in senior management positions has increased from 5.6 per cent in 2004 to 17.3 per cent last year. We are ranked 12th out of 15 countries for the number of women in positions of power, and 10th on the gender pay gap. At present the pay gap is about 13.9 per cent in Ireland.
Prof. Kulik suggested that Australia was where Ireland was some four years ago which indicates progress is possible. The audience were advised that regulatory demands and targets need to be combined with a real desire by organisations to address continued gender under-representation.
However a stark warning was provided in that there is a danger that organisations are experiencing, what Prof. Kulik termed, ‘gender fatigue’. In sum, she suggested that while external pressures such as gender pay reporting requirements and quotas being introduced in some jurisdictions keep organisations aware of the need for visible measures, they may be less enthusiastic about addressing what appears to be deeply embedded and difficult to address inequalities and biases in the workplace.
Flexibility is unsurprisingly key to improved gender diversity and balance in the workplace as women continue to carry a disproportionate amount of family and childcare responsibilities. Flexible work is crucial in order to attract and retain women and thus achieving greater gender diversity in the workplace. Evidence from Ireland raises concerns over this with over a third of women in the Irish workforce reportedly considering leaving or who have left positions due to opportunity inequalities in their company.
The audience also learned that most organisational strategies focus on a ‘bottoms-up’ approach to improving gender representation. In other words, the greatest focus is placed on the provision of initiatives including mentoring or leadership training for women at lower levels of the organisational hierarchy. Prof. Kulik suggested that the alternative, a trickle-down effect, may be all the more important. The idea here, which is backed by recent research, indicates that the appointment of women to executive board positions leads to an immediate positive impact in the feeder group to these highest-level positions.
Somewhat surprisingly to the large audience present at the event, Prof. Kulik reported that research has not been able to substantiate the claims often made linking greater gender diversity to better financial performance. However, gender diversity she said makes organisations better in terms of being more socially responsible, having more innovative products and services, smaller pay gaps and offering more employee participation and development. Consequently, beyond a moral or social argument, there is strong business case supporting greater gender diversity in senior organisational roles.
Significant gaps continue to emerge in relation to pay. This varies strongly from country to country, and industry to industry, and interestingly is much higher when total remuneration as opposed to just base salary are considered. Women continue to earn less than men but this is far more pronounced when bonuses and other incentives are taken into account. Prof. Kulik highlighted the pay gap is substantially higher in organisations where there are no women on the board of that company.
The case for continued promotion and monitoring of gender diversity in organisations is compelling. Despite evidence of modest improvements, now is not the time to be complacent as to the issue of gender imbalance in the workplace, but perhaps instead there is a need to double down on efforts to ensure organisations are not allowed to plateau when there is so much need and scope for improvement.
For details of the centre, which was launched by Oonagh Buckley, Director General of the Workplace Relations Centre earlier this year, go to: https://www.cubsucc.com/hrrc