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Gender benders - getting equality right

09 September 2012

Launched in June at a lunch in Sydney at which the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, spoke, there’s been feverish national activity since then as 1000s of potential candidates in 10 very diverse categories met the deadlines and got their nominations in for the judges.

The panel, including industry leaders in law, business, finance, media, men and women, are committed to furthering the progress of gender equality in this country and to marking out women leaders wherever they may be. 

This month, the finalists will be announced, before the gala October winners’ event. 

The awards are one part of a larger business community operation in which organisations of all types are collaborating to produce significant and sustainable improvements in the gender balance in leadership roles in the workplace and the community.

Westpac is also involved in the three-year Gender Equality Project (GEP): an initiative of the Centre for Ethical Leadership (CEL) at Melbourne Business School. The GEP kicked off in April 2011.

According to the MBS researchers and business at large: “The underlying assumption is that a more balanced representation of men and women in leadership and decision-making roles will mean that organisations are making better use of the full range of available talent and better meeting the needs of both men and women at work.

“Improving gender balance is both smart economics and good human rights.”

The GEP’s four initial core programs are:

 • Unconscious Bias • Resilience • Targets and Quotas • Flexible work practices 

Melbourne Business School will soon launch a research paper on Unconscious Bias and has already launched (July 2012) an original research paper on Resilience: Women’s Fit, Functioning and Growth at Work, as well as a paper in May, this year, on the debate between Targets and Quotas as a way of improving the number of women in senior leadership positions.

In the executive summary of the Targets versus Quotas paper: the researchers found targets and quotas evoke negative reactions among people, ”although there is little systematic research on their impacts on individuals and work cultures… Surprisingly, considering the widely held view that targets and quotas are anti-meritocratic, there is no research evidence that women appointed under targets or quotas are less competent or perform less effectively than the men they may have replaced or women appointed under processes without gender targets or quotas.”

Thinking about the work situation, the researchers noted that managerial work heavily utilizes – in a highly effective way – the use of targets in many other areas: “Most managers are assigned performance targets for which they are held accountable and for which their achievement impacts on rewards, such as short and long term incentives and ultimately promotion opportunities.”

The argument: let’s set “gender targets for which managers are held accountable and, where appropriate, rewarded for achievement…” because it’s as logical as any of the other targets being set.

“Effectiveness of targets would be further enabled if accompanied by organisation specific support strategies and organisational efforts to remove constraints on the acceptance and commitment to gender targets due to mindsets, culture, systems and processes.”