According to leading US research organisation Catalyst, companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams perform better than companies with the lowest female representation. And yet only a small proportion of business leadership positions are actually held by women. Fortunately, there are women like Telstra Business Women’s Awards winner and BRW Rising Star, Maureen Frank (pictured), who are willing to step up to the plate to tackle the issue of gender diversity in the workplace.
Maureen Frank is the founder of Emberin, an innovative Australian company specialising in creating sustainable, positive change in women. Emberin works with leading Australian private and public sector organisations and has offices in Brisbane and Sydney.
In it’s first year of operation, Emberin launched My Mentor, a world first mentoring product developed after significant research into professional issues affecting women in the workforce. The My Mentor program includes CD’s, DVD’s and a workbook. The program is available as either a self-help guide or a 10 week corporate challenge.
Maureen started her working life as a lawyer before moving into the business world. She was appointed National Head of Mergers and Acquisitions for Aon in London, before returning home to Australia after the birth of her twin girls, now aged 8.
“Working in financial services is where I realised that women weren’t treated as well as they should be and that perhaps they needed more support in the workplace than they were getting,” Maureen said in a recent telephone interview with Australian Women Online.
THE DIVISION OF LABOUR AT HOME
Most of the women who occupy senior executive positions are mothers. Some of these women delayed motherhood to devote more time to establishing a career and others delayed having a career until their children were grown. And then there are the ‘supermums’ who juggle motherhood with the demands of full time work. Maureen Frank is one of the latter and knows first-hand the many difficulties confronting working women today.
Juggling motherhood and paid work outside the home isn’t easy and studies have shown that the strain is beginning to take its toll on the general health and wellbeing of the female population.
Maureen Frank says the solution lies with engaging men more in the responsibilities of raising children.
“I was at a conference for Catalyst in New York recently where there was a lot of discussion about this issue. Women have came out at home as being workers and men need to come out at work as being fathers and be proud of the fact that they’re fathers.”
“I think a lot of men want to, but they’re not quite there yet. If you look at the research that is available, less than one percent of men access the parental leave they’re entitled to,” she said.
Maureen says there is a lot of peer group pressure placed on fathers in the workplace to put their roles and responsibilities at work, ahead of their responsiblities at home.
“We underestimate how much men are influenced by their peers. Taking a day off work to look after a sick child is expected of women. But fathers are reluctant to access parental leave because it is seen as an unmasculine thing to do. So I think the change has to come from within men and from within their peer groups. As women, our role is to give them the message and allow men to spread it amongst themselves.”
Maureen added that organisations also have to enable both men and women to achieve a more balanced life.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE SKILLS SHORTAGE
Maureen agrees the current skills shortage has the potential to provide more opportunities for women to advance in the workplace.
Current trends in demographics and workforce participation forecast that there will be a labour shortage of 1.4 million workers by the end of the decade (Australian National Training Authority) and organisations are beginning to realise that one option for addressing the skills shortage problem is to develop the potential of women.
By 2016, the number of women in the Australian labour force will have increased by 867,600 to 4.9 million, a growth rate almost double that of men (Australian Bureau of Statistics). “So it is a good time for women to step up and take on senior positions,” she said.
“But women have to upskill themselves and build the level of confidence they need to be able to take on those roles. Women don’t think they can do those jobs, when they absolutely can.”
GENDER DIVERSITY INCREASES COMPANY PROFITS
A Catalyst Survey of 353 Fortune 500 companies revealed that companies with the highest representation of women in their senior management teams achieved a 35% higher return on investment and a 34% higher total return to shareholders than companies with the lowest women’s representation.
Maureen Frank says there is a large talent pool of educated women waiting to be tapped into by forward-thinking organisations who are set to reap the financial rewards. “A diverse workplace is more effective because it reflects an organisation’s range of stakeholders and is therefore more representative and connected to what’s going on in the world.”
To stay competitive, businesses of all sizes have to recognise the true buying power of women:
- Women spend 90 cents in every household dollar.
- Australia’s 35% of s 1.3M SME operators are women (this figure growing 3 times faster than for men).
- 40% of professionals in Australia are women.
- Between 70-90% of all household financial decisions are made by women.
- 40% of property investors are female.
To target female consumers effectively, employers need to tap into the available pool of female talent and make a commitment to developing the potential of women working within the organisation.
“A modern and progressive organisation will understand that being competitive means fostering links with everyone, and women make up a large proportion of that figure. Developing women managers and leveraging that talent by giving them a seat at the decision-making table is simply smart business,” Maureen says.