Global Diversity Best Practice: Developing Female Talent in Australia

January 23, 2013 4:13 pm

By Barbara Frankel

Global Diversity: Developing Women Talent in AustraliaIn Australia, the greatest efforts in diversity and inclusion center on recruiting, retaining and promoting women, especially into leadership roles. We interviewed Rob McLeod, the Oceania CEO and Managing Partner of Ernst & Young, and Catherine McNair, National Diversity Manager of Deloitte Australia, about their strategies, best practices and results.

There are no government mandates on gender representation on boards of directors in Australia as there are in some European Union countries. However, on Jan. 1, 2011, the Australian Securities Exchange introduced a requirement to report on the following diversity recommendations for all publicly listed companies:

  • Adopt and publicly disclose a diversity policy.
  • Establish measurable objectives for achieving gender diversity and assess annually both the objectives and progress toward achieving them.
  • Disclose in each annual report the measurable objectives for achieving gender diversity and progress toward achieving them.
  • Disclose in each annual report the proportion of women employees in the whole organization, in senior-executive positions and on the board.
  • Disclose the mix of skills and diversity that the board is looking to achieve in membership of the board.

Flexible Workplaces

“Gender diversity is a subset of our broad efforts to draw representatives from all around the Australian firm,” says McLeod, noting that the firm also has been working on more inclusion for aboriginals.

Efforts at both firms and at other companies that submitted data for Australia center on workplace flexibility and specific leadership-development programs aimed at women.

The Australia/New Zealand region’s efforts to increase gender diversity primarily center on workplace flexibility. DiversityInc’s 2012 Global Diversity Research shows that 50 percent of companies in the Australia/New Zealand region had flexible-workplace arrangements compared with 22.5 percent in Europe and just 11 percent in Asia. Yet the average percentage of women senior executives in Australia/New Zealand (23.5 percent) is similar to the percentages in Europe and Asia, as is the average percentage of women in management (33 percent).

“There is still an attitude that to make partner, you have to be out on the road. … This is really about the managing partner on the engagement more than what really can be done,” notes McLeod, adding that if partners are more open about the issues, they can create an atmosphere where there is more flexibility and improve engagement and retention.

Ernst & Young Australia has been evaluating its policies on parental leave and childcare (policies that are the same for men and women) to allow for maximum flexibility. McLeod added that members of the provisional staff, which serves internal clients, haven’t had as much need for flexibility since their workweek is more regular.

For women and people from underrepresented groups, he says, it’s critical to eliminate unconscious bias among managers so they can successfully contribute to the organization. The firm has been actively recruiting women and following its high-potential women from recruitment through partnership.

Deloitte Australia has been focused on gender diversity since early 2000. Championed by Margaret Dreyer, Deloitte Australia board member and Assurance & Advisory Partner, the firm’s Inspiring Women initiative is “not simply about increasing the number of women recruits; it is a planned program focused on supporting and developing women across the entire span of their career,” says McNair.

“Deloitte Australia’s Inspiring Women initiative supports the member firm’s vision of remaining the professional-services firm of choice for talented women. Committed to building the leadership capability and pipeline to partnership for talented women, Deloitte Australia is leveraging its personal experiences to help deliver for its clients and sustain a performance culture,” McNair says.

Developed and introduced by Deloitte Australia’s People & Performance Team in 2004 and also championed by Dreyer, the Deloitte Business Woman of the Year program recognizes the achievements of Deloitte Australia’s most talented women.

The program is instrumental in building strong, relatable role models for women at Deloitte Australia, and indeed for all employees, according to McNair.  “Participating in Deloitte Business Woman of the Year offers an opportunity for our talented women to receive recognition for their achievements,” she says.

The winners act as inspiring female role models and change agents for the Australian member firm, receiving the opportunity to attend a development course of their choice at a top school worldwide, such as Harvard or INSEAD. The winners also receive strong mentoring/sponsoring from the member firm’s senior leaders.

“There is great visibility and exposure to senior leadership,” McNair says.

Deloitte Australia also has a program called Getting Our Unfair Share of Female Talent (GOUSOFT), which aims to improve how Deloitte Australia identifies, engages with and tracks talented women. Since GOUSOFT’s inception in 2009, Deloitte Australia has seen a substantial and consistent increase in the number of talented women recruited into the firm at the director level.

McNair notes that last year, 43 percent of all new female partners were GOUSOFT participants.