Right on Target: Are Gender Targets working?

Barbara Harvey talks with a variety of people in the Diversity space to uncover their thoughts on Gender Targets. Jessica Symes, CEO/FOUNDER Symes Group We must accept that business is 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'm not saying that people are sexist or archaic, what I believe is that the legacy is too strong for individuals to overcome that yet without making clear deliberate choices towards gender equality. *** Sarah Mccullough, Business Applications Manager, Pacific National

I know there is a lot of literature for and against gender targets - and whilst I know they are not the silver bullet to this complex problem I am supportive of the idea. People who argue against gender targets cite that they destroy meritocracy – which I can also see. On the proviso that targets are used in conjunction with other strategies for change which target the root cause of the issue, I can see the value in such targets.

Any mechanism that helps women into leadership roles is a positive one in my opinion- provided it's positioned correctly and everyone understands the "why". Additionally, it's critical that targets are not the only thing the organisation doing to address the gender divide - they need to tackle the issue holistically with programs that target the fabric of the organisation.

In my opinion, having more women in key roles could only enrich our industry, bringing more diversity in thinking, differences in EQ and life experience.

I also am hopeful that as more women take on senior leadership roles and we work towards equality in the workplace, gender targets will become redundant!


Ian Williamson, Professor of Leadership at the Melbourne Business School

In just about every aspect of business organisations use goals and targets to drive outcomes. Early in my professional career I was told by my manager that “those things that get measured get done.” I think the same is true when it comes to diversity. It is natural for individuals to consistently gravitate towards people to whom they are similar. To change this behaviour almost always requires some form of overt goal. I think the key is for organisations to provide a clear explanation for why they would have explicit targets so as to enhance the perceived fairness of the process. I also think transparency in the process is key. Overtime, as individuals’ behaviours change (e.g., they use different recruitment sources, they develop more inclusive management practices, interpersonal comfort increases) it is likely that the targets will no longer be noticed because the organisation will develop a culture that supports diversity. However, like any other aspect of the organisation, monitoring diversity should remain part of an organisation’s routines. **** Kate Young, Graduate Managerm GroupTech, Westpac Group I think having targets for all forms of diversity is an excellent way to keep these conversations front of mind. I personally feel very fortunate to work for a company who are passionately committed to giving women great opportunities at all stages of their career and investing in them to get there. Achieving gender targets is a complex and slow-moving journey, but having them and discussing them openly is a lot more effective than just sweeping the issue under the rug!

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PO Box 5192 Greenwich NSW 2065

Symes Group Pty Ltd trading as Jessica Symes Toomey.

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