In the past decade, we have started seeing an increased number of organisations introducing gender targets into their diversity policies. These scenarios are fantastic to enforce a cause towards eliminating gender discrimination in the workplace. However, are a few guidelines which are most likely not going to be met for some time, enough to make a change?
From a global perspective, studies are showing that for 40% of women that make up the global workforce, they only control a quarter of the world's wealth. In some cases, women also earn up to 36% less than men, and there are still over 31 million girls worldwide who are denied a primary education from a young age. Additionally, only 20% of worldwide government positions are filled by women, and females consume less than 25% of global senior management roles.
In Australia, there are currently vast differences between the number of males and females in the mining, engineering and construction sector. Hence, the reason a number of organisations are raising the expectation for female employee quotas within their workforces. It's all well and good to document a few policies and set a shining goal, but what happens when the quotas are not being achieved due to the fact the skilled female workers are simply not available? A recent study emerged, showcasing that out of every employee in the mining, engineering, oil & gas sector in Australia, only 22% were women. With these statistics, how are organisations in the industry expected to meet 50/50 quotas when the skilled female contingent is simply not available?
One must think about where the problem lies. These days there is a lot of pressure of young women to be, feel and act a certain way. The overexposure of social media and modern television into young children's daily routine is forcing the perception that the typical woman is a hairdresser or a beautician or an administrative clerk of some sort. What about the female Diesel Fitter, Electrician or the female Mechanical Engineer or Foreman? Most high schools in Australia have woodwork, metalwork and industrial type classes from year seven onwards. They are mandatory up until a certain point. However, once the students have a choice to pick their courses from about year nine onwards, the female contingent in some schooling regions evaporates to leave maybe one or two females left in an industrial class of 20. Once students are reaching an age where they are making decisions about what degrees they are going to pursue, the damage usually is already done.
From a recruitment perspective, there is a lot of attention being placed into the job-seeking behaviour of the female worker. Various organisations and online job boards such as seek are carefully assessing how, when and why females are applying to jobs, with scope to mould candidate attraction strategies around female applicant behaviour. One notable finding was that females are less likely to apply for jobs when there are more than six criteria requirements listed in the advert, whereas males, will tend to apply anyway, even if they don't match all the needs. Another finding was that females are less likely to apply to adverts that use mostly masculine type wording (driven, self confident, etc) compared to feminine coded words (foster, teamwork, etc). Computer applications are now readily available so as recruiters can upload adverts into the program and have a "female coded" version of the advert regurgitated back out, changing various words to suit a female job seeker. Even if there was a way to attract the whole female workforce to apply to adverts, it still doesn't change the fact the overall female contingent is still extremely low, which leads to my next point.
There needs to be a profound change in the way young children perceive current male-dominated industries. When I say young, I mean primary school age. Once kids get into high school, it's too late as they are already exposed to a stigmatised way of life which moulds them into being something that society says they should be, not what they want to be. An idea would be for abundant oil/gas, mining, engineering and construction organisations to team up with the department of education in each state to create an initiative to educate young women on the opportunities that are available to them within industrial sectors. In some areas, there are similar programs underway but not in most. A simple idea could be for a female engineer to come in on an ad hoc basis and show students the fantastic buildings she has project managed or a female diesel fitter showing work of the EX-3600 excavator she's been repairing for a mining operation. More importantly, a female senior manager showing a presentation of the workforce she's directing. Simple ideas like this could change the way our sectors look in 15-20 years, ultimately solving the overall problem and aiding the skills shortage in Australia from within and not looking overseas in a panic every time the industry kicks off.
To address the issue, creating quotas which say "we need to hire 200 females" isn't going to fix the long-term issue. Something needs to change at the ground level, at grassroots, before young children are programmed to believe that they must be something that they’re not. The quotas are a good start to show that something is being done but there needs to be a better long-term strategy. Hopefully, in 20 years, we'll see change and a more rounded male and female involvement across all sectors.
Dan McComb - Director
Iron Cove Global