Caitlin Fitzsimmons Online editor

Caitlin covers social media, marketing and technology and is BRW's social media editor. She has worked as a journalist in Sydney, London and San Francisco, writing for titles including The Guardian and The Australian Financial Review.

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Business needs flexible workplaces to retain talented women: Malcolm Turnbull

Published 20 February 2013 11:04, Updated 10 April 2013 07:32

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Business needs flexible workplaces to retain talented women: Malcolm Turnbull

Malcom Turnbull says that in his business life he has practised what he’s preached as a politician in promoting more flexible workplaces. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Malcolm Turnbull says Australian businesses are slow to embrace flexible working practices and losing talented women as a result.

Turnbull, the shadow minister for communication and broadband and a former high-profile businessman, says the lack of women in senior management is a problem.

“One of the things that Australian business is not nearly good enough at is making work places sufficiently flexible to enable women to stay engaged in the workplace and engaged with their employers on a more flexible basis while their children are young,” says Turnbull, speaking at the Kickstart Forum on the Queensland Sunshine Coast on Tuesday.

“Of course this also applies to men too but rightly or wrongly women tend to take more time off to look after children than the fathers do and I just feel there is an enormous under-utilised resource there of very, very qualified women with children who want to work more flexibly. By the way, in my own businesses I’ve always practised what I preach here.

“Businesses should engage more with technology and recognise that people don’t have to be sitting there at the office for eight hours or 10 hours a day to do their work and accord more flexibility so that you have more women staying in senior management and not, as is often the case, dropping out in their early and mid-thirties.”

Turnbull says there is a lot of focus on the number of women in boards but he thinks the representation of women in senior management is a bigger concern. When asked for his stance on quotas to ensure diversity on boards, he noted that it was not Coalition policy.

“We’re not in favour of quotas generally as a party, we think people should be appointed on the basis of merit but I don’t think many companies would be unaware of the importance of having a more diverse board,” he says.

I don’t think many companies would be unaware of the importance of having a more diverse board

In his keynote address, Turnbull made general remarks about the government’s recently announced innovation package. He kept his remarks fairly broad noting that innovation fell into Sophie Mirabella’s portfolio.

“They’re basically a rehash of some innovation hubs previously announced,” Turnbull says. “The objective of engaging business with research is a very laudable one . . . and I don’t think we’ve been good enough at it in Australia. As far as what the government’s announced, it’s there but it’s not going to change the world.”

Turnbull also reiterated previous comments that the national broadband network was taking too long and costing too much.

He says the Coalition would do a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN once in power but lack of transparency from NBN Co made it difficult to do anything in the interim.

“If I put out a set of financials, I want them to be right,” Turnbull says. “If the NBN were to say ‘we’re going to sit down with you and work on scenario B’, we could come up with much more robust numbers.”

Turnbull argues NBN Co should be an “open book” in terms of reporting connections and costs, especially since it was a government-owned business without commercial competitors. Yet he says Telstra, as a publicly listed company, reports in greater detail than NBN Co.

He adds the government needs to be more engaged with the way the pipes are being used than the pipes themselves.

“The productivity challenge isn’t just about finding the next Mark Zuckerberg, it’s also about the plumber down the road,” Turnbull says.

“Part of the challenge with the national broadband network is ensuring its benefits are shared by many . . . the biggest barrier to accessing the internet is not technology, it’s lack of income.”

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