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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The BCA’s radical positive discrimination plan to fast-track women into senior jobs

Published 05 November 2013 07:02, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35

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The BCA’s radical positive discrimination plan to fast-track women into senior jobs

BCA deputy president Maria Tarrant says the organisation’s plan for positive discrimination doesn’t mean women should be put up for roles for which they are not ready. Photo: Christopher Chan

The Business Council of Australia is asking its members to fast-track women into jobs in a radical rethink of the way companies hire and promote.

A ground-breaking research report advocates interventionist measures that positively discriminate in favour of women, as part of the BCA’s commitment to have 50 per cent of senior roles filled by women in the next decade.

The BCA represents 120 of Australia’s biggest companies and its members will receive a copy of the report on Tuesday and then will decide for themselves whether they will take on board its advice.

While some of the measures will be confronting for some businesses, BCA president Tony Shepherd, says in a letter to members that the recommendations reflect the best practices in recruitment, appointment and promotion.

“The low representation of women in senior levels of management cannot continue. We risk not getting the best talent for the job and women not reaching their true potential. Such a situation is not good for individuals, business or the economy,” he said.

The progress of women into the top jobs is often described as “glacial”. Women comprise around 46 per cent of the workforce, but hold only 16.4 per cent of board seats and 3.5 per cent of chief executive positions in ASX 200 companies.

Up to 50 per cent of business graduates and 60 per cent of law graduates are female.

The BCA recommendations, as a follow-up to its Action Plan for Enduring Prosperity, announced in July, tackle the excuses of companies not having enough suitably qualified women to promote and not being able to find enough women to hire.

The president of the Australian Human Resources Institute, Peter Wilson, says he is pleasantly surprised at the nature of the recommendations.

“It is interventionist, but it needs to be,” he said. “It is unexpected from a group generally considered as one that doesn’t like interventionist activity.”

Wilson says that although smaller companies may baulk at the suggested measures, larger, publicly listed organisations “will not blink an eye”.

“They are already getting on with it and are getting results.”

The deputy CEO of the BCA, Maria Tarrant, says positive discrimination in favour of women does not mean that people will be promoted into jobs before they are ready: “You want to see women with appropriate competencies on the list”.

However, an adoption of the hiring, development and promotion processes would take unconscious bias out of those decisions and this is a development that could benefit men, as much as it does women.

Some of the report’s recommendations include:

  • 1. Gender diversity metrics are included in the key performance indicators of the CEO and top team, with a meaningful link to short-term incentives and other bonus payments.
  • 2. New CEOs must have a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • 3. Equal numbers of men and women in the top team (if necessary by increasing, in the short term, the numbers in the top team).
  • 4. CEOs take unconscious bias testing and share the results.
  • 5. Appoint a diversity and inclusion expert within the company to support the CEO.
  • 6. Set, monitor and reach time-bound targets to reach gender parity.
  • 7. Abolish any gender pay gap.
  • 8. Make public key targets, milestones and outcomes.
  • 9. Targets for equal representation of women in all talent pools.
  • 10. Flexibility in upper- and lower-age criteria for women in talent pools to allow for periods of leave that include parental leave.
  • 11. Fill vacant roles on an interim basis to allow enough time to secure a permanent female candidate.
  • 12. CEO and key leaders identify two female successors each.
  • 13. Make efforts, during restructuring and retrenchment, to retain women.
  • 14. Accelerate women’s early development to get them further along their career paths before they might have children.
  • 15. Commit to the same bell curves of ratings as between males and females within defined cohorts, and ensure flexible working and parental leave are not penalised.
  • .16. Performance reviews to be the result of a variety of inputs to reduce the likelihood of bias and, in the context of 360-degree assessments, that 50 per cent of assessors are female.
  • 17. When women are on parental leave, companies continue remuneration reviews and notional increases in base pay, bonuses and superannuation, based on average CPI-related and performance-based increases received across their team and peers.
  • 18. Provide all high-potential women with a very senior sponsor.
  • 19. Assess recruitment firms for their commitment to gender diversity.
  • 20. Seek short lists of 100 per cent women or require at least 50 per cent and interview them all to improve awareness of the available female talent.

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