Right on target - An interview by Barbara Harvey with Jessica Symes

Are they working? Are they necessary? Symes Group weighs in on the argument around gender targets.

Worldwide, women stand to lose more jobs via automation than men, according to a recent study by the World Economic Forum (The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution study).

The industries and roles with the largest representation of women – office and administrative roles, manufacturing and production –will be the hardest hit. For every 4 million jobs lost by men, 1.4 million will be gained, however women will face 3 million job losses but only 0.55 million gains. That's a displacement rate of more than five jobs lost per one job gained. More than ever the notion of keeping women in the workforce and supporting women in leadership objectives is a hot topic. But it's no longer a feel-good or compliance issue. It is now common knowledge that diversity is key to innovation, to ensuring organisations are future ready – and women are an essential piece of the diversity pie. Yet despite this, studies are revealing that Australian organisations are suffering gender fatigue and are arguing that the statistics of women in leadership are not changing as significantly as expected, despite the investment. A report by accounting firm KPMG shows that the area where there is least movement of women in leadership is in the step from middle management to senior/executive management. In our experience at Symes Group this is often due to the restrictions of work on offer at that level. Women who are highly skilled and educated with executive leadership capability are being offered the opportunities but not taking them. Symes Group anecdotal evidence collected from hundreds of women in middle management suggests that for many women there is a perception that the step into an executive leadership role will have a negative impact on their wellbeing and out of work needs like care of children or elderly parents. So where does that leave us? According to the Future of Jobs survey, organisations confirm that the two greatest contributors to shifts in gender equality in leadership are • Adjustments for work/life balance and • Setting gender targets.

Key benefits of gender diversity

Companies with females on their boards have achieved higher revenue growth, profitability and shareholder returns than those without, the KPMG Enterprise's 2017 ASX 300+ Report revealed.

Appointing women to company boards helps avoid scandals, fraud and corruption, according to research conducted by MSCI Inc.

We must accept that business in this country was built and set up by men at a time when women were not allowed to work or vote. The legacy is still around us and not that much time has passed. Without addressing that, the legacy plays a part in unconscious bias, natural selection for recruitment, policies and procedures, paths to leadership and so on. And to say that legacy does not influence women's position in the workforce is ignorant. I am not at all saying that there aren’t fantastically aware intelligent individuals in organisations. I am not saying that people are sexist or archaic. What I believe is that the legacy is too strong for individuals to overcome it yet without making clear deliberate choices towards gender equality. – Jessica Symes

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Suite 106, 7-11 Clarke Street, Crows Nest NSW 2065

PO Box 5192 Greenwich NSW 2065

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