Right now, talking about diversity in the workplace is in vogue. Executives and business leaders alike are making grand statements of intent about how they and their organisations want a ‘female future.’ When it comes to actually doing something, however, matters become more complicated. Here, we discuss practical ways forward for Australian organisations.
International Women’s Day is inspiring for so many reasons. We get to hear stories of adversity, strength and perseverance from women everywhere. We are provided with a visual representation of just how much support there is in society for the equality of sexes. The day poses as a reminder that, no matter how bad things may seem, we are in the midst of a movement that shows no signs of slowing down.
There is one element of International Women’s Day that I do find somewhat frustrating – and this is something that extends to other similar celebrations. It manifests in a quote from Jane Fonda who, at the Oscars only a few weeks ago, said “Nothing is more important than raising awareness, right?”
Of course, raising awareness for important causes is vital. We can’t get anywhere unless we know that a problem exists. We should be thankful for all the efforts and sacrifices people like Jane Fonda have made to bring matters to our attention.
But there is one thing that I think is clearly more important than raising awareness. That thing is action.
Words mean very little unless we act upon them. This is especially true of business leaders. Being in support of women in the workplace is great but, if we accept that the reasons for the lack of women in positions of power is systemic, then words of support do not amount to much. Executives and business leaders need to be implementing organisation wide changes to ensure that their messages take hold.
As we celebrate, advocate and continue to promote the universal truth of womanly strength, I invite all men and women to do something different this year: On the day following International Women’s Day, ask your boss (or yourself if you are the boss) what is being done to turn sentiment into change. Ensure that your organisation carries the momentum of the day into the future.
Miki Tsusaka points out that one way of doing this is using the reskilling revolution to empower women across Australia. As we know, the technological changes that will accompany the future of work require organisations to reskill and retrain their workers so that they can fill new areas of demand. This is demonstrated in research from McKinsey and Co which suggests that by 2030, as much as 14% of the world’s workers will need to be retrained to take on new roles.
Tsusaka writes “if corporate leaders double down on their investments in reskilling throughout the next decade, they can take advantage of untapped female talent and ensure that women aren’t disproportionately losing jobs.” In other words, the necessity of reskilling employees evens the playing field between women and men. They are both starting from ground zero. Executives can use this opportunity to build useful capacities within their female workers so that they can have a bigger role in the workplace of the future. This is an opportunity to convert female leadership potential into actuality.
There is a time in the lifecycle of every movement where hope must transform into action. For gender diversity in the workplace, that time is now. The stars are aligning. We all know and appreciate the roles that women can play in the upper levels of organisations. We all want it to happen. And now, because of the necessity of reskilling our employees, we have a platform on which we can act.
International Women’s Day is more than a celebration. It is a marker of change. The work doesn’t end once the clock ticks over past midnight.
It is an executive’s job to empower women at every level of his/her organisation. The ideal gender diverse workplace won’t be built in a day. Nor a month. Nor a year. But with the proper commitment, it will happen.