Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Raise productivity, promote a woman

Published 28 November 2012 05:44, Updated 30 January 2013 21:59

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Raise productivity, promote a woman

Coca-Cola Amatil CEO Terry Davis, says head hunters are not on board with putting women on all shortlists. Pic: Jim Rice

Arguments against discriminating in favour of promoting women are full of red herrings – and one of the most common is that, somehow, you will end up with less qualified people in the job.

The group managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil, Terry Davis, says that the recruitment industry is part of the problem.

“It was surprising that when I went to some of our major headhunters that there was a lack of acknowledgment about getting females on the shortlist.

“They asked did I want the best people for the job, or just the people on the list. That wasn’t the answer I was looking for,” he said at the launch of the 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership in Sydney on Tuesday.

At Coca-Cola Amatil, he insists that there must be at least one senior woman on the shortlist for every senior role.

The protest that by discriminating in favour of women candidates you may knock out a better qualified man is a false one.

As Davis says, no one is suggesting that less able people get the job. The situation in which you would discriminate is where there are two or more people who are equally qualified and a decision is made to put a woman into the role.

Although anyone who misses out on the job on this basis would be rightfully disappointed, the bigger picture is that the business community needs to counteract the age-old cultural discrimination in favour of men.

There will be no change without positive discrimination.

If you look at the statistics from EOWA (Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency), women hold only 9.2 per cent of senior executive roles in the top 500 ASX-listed companies. Yet 55 per cent of university graduates are women, said QBE chair Belinda Hutchinson at the launch.

“Don’t tell me there aren’t enough women, because they are out there,” she said.

The flood of women into the workforce and into professional careers over the last 30 years was supposed to have provided the unstoppable force that would take women into leadership roles. As the statistics show, that was a false hope.

EOWA director Helen Conway made the point that, every day, there is a news headline bemoaning Australia’s poor productivity and yet the most obvious remedy is to improve the participation of women in the workforce.

“But what we have been doing hasn’t worked. We need to move gender equity centre stage . . . we need to align gender equity with the business strategy,” she said.

Goldman Sachs estimates that gross domestic product could increase by 13 per cent if male and female participation rates were equalised.

Another red herring is that quotas for women on boards or at senior levels in companies would mean that good men would be turfed out of their jobs.

Davis voiced this fear at the EOWA launch: ”If you don’t achieve [the quota], does it mean two strikes and you are out?” he asked, referring to the new rule on executive pay (if more than a 25 per cent of shareholders vote against a remuneration report at two consecutive annual meetings, shareholders must vote on a board spill).

“Does it mean you have to fire a male to make the quota?” said Davis, saying he preferred the current “name and shame” approach to companies that don’t make progress on gender equality.

Of course, there are many other ways to make sure a mandated quota has “teeth” and the difference between voluntary targets and legislated quotas is that companies don’t want change by force.

The ANZ Bank, which has exceeded its voluntary target to fill 40 per cent of management positions with women, would be little troubled by a quota.

But to be clear, EOWA’s Conway does not – at this stage – support a quota system, but she says that if companies do not start to take this issue seriously, there will be no choice but to force the issue.

As the CEO of OrotonGroup, Sally Macdonald, said at the launch, the threat of quotas should be enough to bring about change.

“I’m not afraid of it,” she said.

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