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Guest blog by Morningstar Managing Editor, Julia Newbould – We’re not changing attitudes just behaviour

“Don’t set out to change attitudes, set out to change behaviour,” Catherine Fox told a group of Finsia lunch attendees in Sydney last week.

Changing attitudes is a hard slog and could take generations but changing behaviour is something manageable and is still possible to achieve in my working life.

There were a lot of challenging ideas presented at the FINSIA leadership lunch.

Maire Steele, acting director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), presented a report card on the financial services sector about their treatment of women in business.

The results were mixed. In an industry of which the majority (57%) were women, compared with a national average of 48%, paid maternity leave was above the Australian average.

However, according to Finsia research, both men and women believed maternity and potential maternity still prevented women advancing in organisations. The survey found 71% of women and 32% of men believed that there was an expectation that women would leave to have a child and therefore would be less likely to be offered advancement in an organisation.

Finsia found 73% of women believed they were not well represented in their organisation, while just 32% of men held this belief.

Despite the ASX now requiring listed companies to report their actions in developing gender diversity on their boards and senior management, targets have not been widespread.

Part of this has been because 85% of men have said this would be demeaning for women. Far fewer women (58%) feel the same way.

This is likely to be because the gender pay gap has been recognised even by the ABS. The national average is 18 per cent. However, for women in financial services the gap is more marked at 28 per cent.

Undertaking equity analysis on a business level is one way to work this out of the system. However, few organisations have begun to tackle the issue.

EOWA is currently preparing an online pay equity resource for HR people, which will encompass the issues involved and how to take it into the organisation.

“It seems in the Finsia survey that the different perceptions of men and women are not dissimilar to the election worms,” Steele said.

“We need to see more analytical research on quotas and alternatives to quotas.”

Corrs Chambers Westgarth CEO John Denton said that he believed that targets needed to be set and if people think that interferes with a meritocracy they should realise that if we were truly operating in a meritocracy now we would not be having this discussion.

“In a pure system we would not have this but we’re not operating in a pure system,” Denton said.

Eva Freedman, HSBC head of HR, Tanya Gilerman, KPMG financial services partner, and Denton all agreed that the best businesses of the future would be grabbing the opportunity to engage with the best workforce and seek to be a workplace of choice for women.

Freedman thought it was an issue of culture and leadership, Gilerman of flexibility and Denton believed the first mover to embrace diversity would benefit.

All believed that to achieve gender diversity there had to be buy-in from the CEO and senior management and if women found themselves in organisations where there was not that support they should vote with their feet.

Denton challenged the audience on making their feelings more known – he suggested we women were not angry enough.

Realistically, there was little achieved by getting angry, said one lunch attendee. It is a small industry with entrenched behaviours and in her almost 40 years in the industry nothing had changed, she said.

New graduates were unaware of the difficulties that lay ahead. And we know they do because when we were those new graduates we felt the same way. Gender equality exists for students and the inequality is a surprise upon entering the workforce. When I entered 20 years ago, it was a complete shock. That there was sexism and inequality in the mid-80s was hitherto unthinkable. We are now in 2010, and I notice little change.

 

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