Addressing workplace inequality

Thursday, 01 September 2016


    Addressing workplace inequality and best practice, along with international comparisons, were key discussion topics at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) luncheon, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney last month.

    The discussion was part of the ongoing CEDA Women in Leadership series, which aims to highlight progress in workplace gender equality.

    Speaking to a predominantly female audience, the Hon. Gladys Berejiklian MP identified the issue of combating unconscious bias as the next frontier in the gender equality issue.

    Berejiklian reiterated the need for more women in government and parliament. She said that a greater gender balance was necessary, not just because it was the fair or right thing to do, but because there is “now overwhelming evidence to support that having more women in leadership roles leads to more positive decision making and an increase in the bottom line.”

    In order to achieve gender balance, she is calling on all political parties, including her own, to set targets for the number of women proactively selected in each election. “We should not stop until half the people in all of our parliaments are women. It is in the best interest of the community and government to make sure we have more women at all levels of decision making.”

    Berejiklian said that while progress has been made in setting targets and having proactive initiatives across business, in the community and in the political sphere, “there is still an inherent covert bias that exists on perceptions of leadership and gender.”

    She added that: “no matter what progress has been made to date, all of us have biases in how we view leadership.”

    In order to challenge these biases, she says: “we need a critical mass of women in leadership and key position making roles.” Since her appointment as the New South Wales Treasurer in April 2015, Berejiklian said that of the 64 appointments in which she has been involved, 31 have been women.

    Also present at the luncheon was Her Excellency Ms Unni Kløvstad, Norwegian Ambassador to Australia. Kløvstad spoke of Norway’s gender balance progress and the success of female integration in the workforce. In 2004, the Norwegian government passed a law that mandated a 40 per cent quota of women on boards and on public and state owned companies.

    Today, Norway ranks second behind world leader Iceland on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Of the 145 countries listed, Australia ranks 36th, behind the US at number 28 and the UK, sitting at 18th.

    Norway has one of the highest levels of women in the workforce; more than 80 per cent of Norwegian women are employed – 16 per cent higher than the OECD average. Kløvstad said the Norwegian workforce also rates highly in OECD workforce productivity.

    “This is largely due to several factors including technology, modernisation and increased efficiencies. However, the increased participation of women in the workplace has contributed substantially to the increase in value creation,” said Kløvstad.

    She added that women holding management positions and being on boards can lead to economic growth, noting that OECD research found achieving parity in labour force participation could boost global gross domestic product (GDP) by 12 per cent over the next 20 years.

    Dealing with a crisis

    Handling a public relations crisis requires strategic planning. Below are some top tips on best practice.

    1. Stakeholder engagement: Lead by the chair, the board should maintain relationships with key stakeholders who can be contacted quickly during a crisis.
    2. Crisis-management plan: The board must ensure clear crisis-management policies, procedures and advisers are in place – and refreshed as needed.
    3. Crisis-management training: Using advisers, the board should conduct a mock crisis at least bi-annually, to test the organisation’s response.
    4. Lines of sight: The board should have a direct line to the organisation’s media or investor relations manager and any external communications adviser.
    5. Understand crisis severity: Is the crisis material to earnings? Will it affect the listed company’s continuous disclosure obligations? Is a market response warranted?
    6. An early statement: Often, the best initial response is a statement that acknowledges that the organisation is aware of the problem and is doing everything it can to manage it.
    7. Prioritising stakeholder contact: The chair, for example, might meet personally with the organisation’s top five shareholders to explain the situation.
    8. Supporting management: The board is typically most effective working behind the scenes in a crisis. The board can relay market feedback to the executive team and provide other support and crisis insight as needed.
    9. Review performance: How did the organisation handle the crisis? Was the crisis-management plan effective? What could improve next time?
    10. Measure: Ensure corporate reputation surveys assess any brand damage from the crisis. Follow-up meetings with key stakeholders, led by the board, might be appropriate.

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