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7 success strategies for advancing and retaining women

Last week I chaired a conference in Melbourne on advancing and retaining women in firm.  Amongst the line up of speakers were members of the accounting, legal, engineering, automotive and banking sector, all of whom spoke about the programs and initiatives they are running to assist in promoting diversity and developing their female talent.

The calibre and honesty of each of the speakers was quite superb, and I must admit I walked away with several new ideas on initiatives for my clients to implement in their organisations and women’s programs.  I thought I’d share with you 7 of my favorite takeaways from the line up that may help you in promoting and retaining women in your business:

  1. Open your mind to the possibilities of job sharing and sell the benefits of the arrangement you are proposing. At KPMG the role of National Manager, People and Culture, is shared by two women who work in two different offices – one in Melbourne and one in Canberra. The benefit? Coverage of the role in two locations that delivers synergy beyond what one person in one location could achieve.
  2. Focus on the success stories, and share them. Engineers Australia ran an initiative last year called 2007 Year of Women in Engineering, under which female full membership grown by 15% in 12 months. Much of the program’s success is attributed to the sharing of success stories of female engineers that until now had been largely unheard. This included publishing an article on the “25 most influential female engineers” their industry magazine and producing a book on journey of successful female engineers. Suddenly other women engineers had role models they could relate to, in a profession highly dominated by males.
  3. What get’s measured gets attention. GM Holden introduced a 30% female new hire target in 2005. Without changing the recruitment or selection process, tracking this measurement alone has attributed to an increase in the percentage of female new hires from 25% in 2004 to 31% in 2006. Simply introducing the KPI gave visibility to an issue that had previously been overlooked, and the results followed.
  4. Use external forces where you can to drive change. Several professional services firms talked about the increasing emphasis by clients on diversity and female representation in the tender process. Where tenders ask for information to be provided on the diversity initiatives and female representation, sharing this information with the executive team can help create the catalyst for change you may need to get your women’s initiatives off the ground.
  5. To tell or not to tell: there’s no one size fits all. The arguments for and against transparency with clients when roles are performed on part time hours emerged through several of the presentations and morning tea discussions. A partner from Deacons shared her experience of being transparent with her clients about being out of the office on Wednesdays, and how she manages client expectations by asking them not to call if possible, while also taking “5 minute calls” as necessary to reassure clients when required; while senior members of Deloitte’s in-house legal team showed how they manage part time hours without their clients ever needing to know the days someone is in or not.
  6. Flexibility is the key, but it has to come in all shapes and sizes. Changing the mindset towards a more flexible workplace requires a culture shift in which every form of flexibility is recognised, not just part time hours for return to work parents. One lawyer talked about her father who played golf every second Wednesday throughout his career: in today’s terms this is a flexible work arrangement, but in days gone by it was just networking with the boys. By that benchmark I reckon just about every partner in a law firm is a flexible worker!!
  7. Beware the unconscious bias. ANZ have implemented a number of organisation-wide initiatives aimed at uncovering the assumptions that are diving behaviours within the organisation. Addressing these assumptions is a key focus for their diversity council, which is chaired by CEO Mike Smith. ANZ is now talking openly about the unconscious bias women face in advancing their careers and encouraging leaders to break down these invisible barriers that have been holding women back within the bank.

In reality, there were probably 70 highlights I could have mentioned rather than 7.  Hope this helps for a start, and I’ll see what I can add to the blog in the coming days as a supplement.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments on which of these initiatives are being implemented in your organisation, and which deserve the most attention.

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