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Chiefs unite to promote gender equity


From: The Advertiser, Business Journal, 06 March 2012, page 7
by Maria Moscaritolo

South Australian firms have banded together to find solutions to the under-representation of women, especially in senior positions, in their workplaces and improve their bottom line.

The "chiefs for gender equity" roundtable includes the heads of Elders, Santos, shipbuilder ASC, law firm Minter Ellison, KPMG, ANZ, ETSA Utilities and infrastructure consultancy Parsons Brinckerhoff.

They were brought together by acting SA Commissioner for Equal Opportunity, Anne Burgess, to share tactics for improving diversity and act as advocates for further change in their respective industry networks.

ASC chief executive Stephen Ludlam said a key ambition was to grow the talent pool available. "If we can't genuinely lead it from the top of the business, then we will not be successful," he said.

He said only 12 per cent of ASC employees were female (most in corporate/commercial jobs, engineering and finance) and, despite equitable promotions and training opportunities, one barriers was the dearth of women considering non-traditional careers in defence manufacturing.

"Why I wanted to be with it is so I could be with like-minded people, share some views, get some better ideas but essentially work with a set of people who really want to make a difference rather than just talk about it," Mr Ludlam said.

The after-hours group has met twice since November. At its last meeting, in early February, the group invited Commissioner for Public Sector Employment, Warren McCann, to join. A third meeting is scheduled for March 26.

Ms Burgess said the eight men were enthusiastic about identifying and tackling the invisible barriers to advancement, and said their involvement was a hard-nosed business decision. "What they're all interested in is how you make a difference in the business bottom line," Ms Burgess said.

"They're not doing this because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy and they're doing something good for women, they're actually doing it because they can see it makes good business sense to draw your talent from at least half the population."

She said studies backed this. A 2007 Catalyst report cited on the ASX website showed Fortune 500 companies with three or more female board directors consistently outperformed those with the fewest/no females directors in such measures as return on equity, sales and return on invested capital.

Elders chief executive officer Malcolm Jackman said 45 per cent of the company's staff were women, but mainly in administration positions. His mission was to lift the number in management.

"You get a much more balanced business," he said. "Males and females generally bring similar hard skills to a role ... but they often bring a different style and approach to the job."

Ms Burgess said the group deliberately was all-male, as men held the vast majority of leadership and decision-making positions.

This was about "men persuading men".

The ASX now requires listed companies to report on gender diversity.

Ms Burgess said that was a motivator for many of them to act, especially to avoid the unpopular prospect of enforceable quotas.

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