The benefits of having more women in ‘blokey’ industries are manifold. But while companies are taking steps towards greater gender diversity, significant challenges remain.
Issues around workplace gender equality have arguably never been higher on the agenda, with robust discussions taking place daily in businesses, online and among academics and policy-makers.
First, the good news: Australia has made real progress across many industries over the past 20 years. According to the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the proportion of women employed has increased in 12 out of 19 sectors. There’s been a substantial increase in the proportion of female managers in male-dominated industries—from 30.1 to 37.1% to be precise—and as we keep hearing, women have never been better-educated or better-placed to step-up to managerial and ‘non-traditional’ roles.
However the broader picture is not so rosy, with a persistent gender pay gap and a labour market that remains highly gender-segregated by industry and occupation. Men still hold the majority of leadership roles, even in female-dominated industries, and some male-dominated industries (such as construction and wholesale trade) have even recorded a decline in women’s participation.
The benefits of having more women in leadership roles in traditionally ‘blokey’ industries are manifold—for business, individuals and society. But while awareness of the value of gender diversity has prompted many organisations to do more to promote women in non-traditional fields, challenges remain.
Professor Carol Kulik has conducted research examining the pay and psychological impacts on women working in male and female dominated industries, and says there are benefits and trade-offs to both scenarios. Women in male-dominated industries tend to receive higher remuneration than those in industries with more women, but may be subject to greater scrutiny when things go wrong; those working in female-dominated industries aren’t as well-paid, but are more likely to feel supported in their workplaces.
"We know that when women are in non-traditional roles in male-dominated industries, they’re in the spotlight, and that’s both good for them and bad for them,” she says. “Their mistakes are given a high profile, but it also means they get a lot of attention and that can be good if they’re really successful."
Besides pay, another benefit of being a female in a male-dominated industry is the likelihood of finding a male mentor—an important factor in women’s advancement, according to Kulik.
“We know that people have stronger relationships if there is more similarity, so it’s much easier for me to talk to someone about my problems if I think you’ve experienced similar problems,” she says. “But we also know that if you’re in some kind of minority position and you use similarity to find a mentor, you’re almost always choosing someone who has less power, less authority, and fewer resources than a dissimilar person.”
When considering the benefits of having women in senior positions for organisations, many point to bottom-line indicators. However, Kulik says the advantages are far more complex than a dollar figure.
“While there are certainly examples of organisations with female leaders having high financial performance, the large meta-analyses don’t show much of a female bottom-line advantage. However, companies are more likely to appoint female managers when they’re in a financially precarious situation, so the fact that you don’t see differences probably says something good about women’s performance in such roles.
“We find that women focus an organisation’s attention on things that they might not have considered if the workforce is more homogeneous. Heterogeneous groups—of women and men—tend to make more creative decisions; they consider more viewpoints.”
For businesses seeking the benefits of gender-diversity in management, Kulik says there are several things they can do. The key starting point is to objectively look at their data.
“Pay close attention to gender proportions at all levels of the organisation, and measure your success by looking at the data.”
of Directors in the ASX 200 are women.
(Australian Institute of Company Directors, January 2016)
of ASX companies do not have a woman on their board.
(Australian Institute of Company Directors, January 2016)
Next comes recruitment: advertise and offer flexible working arrangements. Industries where women aren’t coming up through the ranks can benefit from a top-down approach.
"If your recruitment company isn’t providing female candidates, insist that they do—or get another that will."
“Consider candidates from outside the industry for management positions, with transferable skills in areas like HR and finance, instead of assuming that you’re always going to be digging in the same pot—especially when that pot doesn’t have many women in it.”
And Kulik’s advice for women who want to advance in so-called non-traditional fields? Take a strategic approach to negotiation.
“Yes, lean in, but choose your battles wisely and know when to lean in. I think one of the real skills that we need to teach women is to gauge their environment.”
Pay negotiations are also important, particularly at the start of careers.
“If you don’t start on the same salary as the man who’s starting in the job next to you, you’re not putting as much in your super account, so 30 years down the track you’re not going to have as much retirement savings.”
Don’t look for a single mentor; have a board of mentors that can advise you in different areas, and remember, a mentor doesn’t have to be like you.
“Sometimes you can learn a lot from someone you don’t even like that much,” Kulik says.
Finally, and most importantly, share information and network with people outside of your company.
“The more women share information about pay and practices, the more they can take that information to the organisation and say ‘here’s a strategy that works’.”
"Things have and are changing, but there’s always a danger: the more things change for the better, the less urgent that problem feels."
While many organisations are making inroads into achieving better gender diversity in management and throughout the ranks, the take-home message for everyone is to avoid complacency.
In an international comparison of women’s advancement in management, Kulik recently pointed out that while women have increased their representation in low and middle management, their representation at executive and board levels remains at single or low double digits.
“We have to be consciously mindful, and keep doing the audits and keep doing the comparisons, not take our eye off the ball.”
The full-time average weekly ordinary earnings for women are
less than for men.
(Australian Bureau of Statistics, January 2016)
Average superannuation balances for women at retirement are
less than those for men.
(Association of Superannuation Funds Australia December, 2015)
The benefits of workplace gender equity
1.HELPS ATTRACT TOP TALENT
Workplaces that are equally appealing for women and men provide employers with access to the entire talent pool.
2.CAN REDUCE EXPENSES
A fair and equitable workplace reduces staff turnover, thereby decreasing the high expense of recruitment.
3.IMPROVES ORGANISATIONAL PERFORMANCE
Diversity brings different perspectives, produces more holistic analyses of issues, and spurs greater effort, leading to better decision-making.
4.IMPROVES NATIONAL PRODUCTIVITY AND COMPETITIVENESS
Raising female workforce participation by 6% can potentially add $25 billion each year to the Australian economy and increase competitiveness.
5.MAXIMISES HUMAN RESOURCES
When women and men equally contribute at home and in the workplace, they enhance their individual wellbeing, as well as that of the economy and society.
Adapted from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
Leaning in: Success stories from the coalface
Here, three successful women share their experiences and insights gained while climbing the ladder in so-called ‘non-traditional’ industries. Each an alumnus of the UniSA Business School, and each at a different career stage, their stories show that win-wins are possible when organisations, leaders and employees are prepared to come to the table and talk about what works for women.
Ashleigh Stiling is Shift Coordinator and Acting Operations Manager at Harsco Metals and Minerals in Whyalla. In 2015, she was named the Telstra Young South Australian Business Woman of the Year. She is also a graduate of UniSA’s Bachelor of Business and Enterprise
MY CAREER PATH
Growing up in Whyalla, I was surrounded by the steel industry but I never considered it as a career path—the dirty, dusty environment never appealed to me—it was a boy’s job. When I finished high school, I had visions of studying law, but didn’t feel ready to move, so I enrolled to study business with the notion that I could transfer those credits into another degree later on. While studying, I was offered a six-month cadetship at Harsco; that led to a senior administration role, and a quality and training position. I’m now the first and only female operations manager for Harsco in Australia, after being with the company for 10 years.
A typical day involves a lot of consultation with a lot of different parties. We have a management meeting every morning to see where we are tracking for the month. I speak with the customer to ensure we’re meeting our contractual obligations and determine our production requirements. I confer with employees and shift leaders, conduct audits, investigate incidents, approve leave requests, review overtime requirements and manage training plans. With the operation being 24/7 it is very fast-paced and everything can change in a blink of an eye, so I have to be quite flexible and on the ball to adapt to all situations thrown my way.
Acceptance is the biggest challenge I have faced being female in a male-dominated industry. It was challenging to gain the respect of ‘the guys’ as they had only ever been used to dealing with male management; the last thing I wanted to do was walk in and try to tell someone twice my age with double my experience how to do their job. Instead, I engaged with the employees and learned from them, asking for their thoughts, which in turn earned me their trust. With Arrium under administration, the future of steelmaking in Whyalla is unknown and it can be demotivating and depressing. So as a company and management team, we are trying to remain as positive as possible, keeping our employees informed and continuing to have safety and employee wellbeing at the forefront of our operations. We absolutely would not want an incident to occur because someone’s mind isn’t on the job.
I have helped increase the number of women in operations at my workplace, from one when I started, to five today. They got the jobs not because they were female but because they were capable of fulfilling the role. There is a step change occurring in male-dominated industries where companies and businesses are attempting to balance out the male to female ratio so that there are no gender-dominated industries in the future.
Kym Myall is a Director at the Australian Tax Office. She is succeeding in an environment where the majority of the workforce is female, but a greater percentage of its senior executives and middle managers are men. Kym holds a double MBA with the UniSA Business School.
MY CAREER PATH
My first job was as a strapper in racing stables, so I’m no stranger to ‘blokey’ environments. I worked on a cattle station out past Coober Pedy; in retail; in small business; and ended up as a casual teller in a bank, growing my career in banking from there, working as a branch manager and then managing call centres and mobile sales teams. I joined the tax office when the GST was coming in—they were looking for people with experience in business to help explain the new system.
In my current role we look after risk management and strategy, focusing not just at the compliance end but on anticipating areas that businesses might have difficulty complying—we try to prevent non-compliance so people don’t get themselves in debt.
When I was a young bank manager, I was often dealing with all-male teams, and it could be really challenging; this was back in the days when I would have people call me ‘the little girl’. Once when I was managing one of the city branches, an older customer came in, and of course my name’s Kym—it’s asexual— but when he saw me he said ‘I won’t deal with you’ and just walked out. You just had to grin and bear it or choose not to partake in trying to build a career: they were your options.
Earlier in my career, I probably crossed the line between assertive and aggressive at times, whereas now I don’t. I once had a great manager pull me aside after I’d managed a difficult project—I’d pulled it off but in the process had managed to put some of my colleagues off-side. The manager said, “Kym, could you have achieved the same result with honey as you did with vinegar?”, and it’s a good piece of advice for anyone. A lot of your success is about understanding the environment, not just understanding your job.
The public service is a leader in gender diversity, but there are still roles that you’re more likely to see females in and roles that you’re more likely to see males in—I call it the ‘barbecue and kitchen syndrome’. At certain times I have dealt with an all-male or an all-female team and I don’t think that’s the team that brings the best to the board… that’s no disrespect to the individuals personally, but I think we all know that we come at things from different ways, and you need both ways of thinking—it’s critical for us because we have to represent the community, and the community’s not all of one or the other.
My advice to ambitious women would be it’s about getting yourself known, it’s about contributing, and it’s about being brave and trying different things in a considered way, in a way that will add value to the business as well as add value to yourself.
Cheree Figg is the SA Port Manager for Svitzer Australia. A UniSA marketing graduate, she is one of our inaugural UniSA WiMBA scholarship holders, and part of a national $20 million initiative to tackle gender imbalances in MBAs.
MY CAREER PATH
Mine was an accidental path, as I think it is for everyone in this type of industry. I grew up in Nyah in North West Victoria, so to end up in the shipping industry is not anything I would have imagined in Year 12. I’d never seen a shipping container; didn’t know what a tug was. I was living in Adelaide, studying towards a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) at UniSA, when I heard about a job opportunity at a shipping agency. Something that was only going to be short-term turned into five years, as I moved through various positions, from cargo import documentation to inventory and stock control. I later joined Adsteam (now Svitzer) as an operations officer and gradually moved up to my current role, where I look after everything from operations, safety and maintenance to HR, payroll and industrial relations. I love my job. Every day is different, each port is different, and there are always new challenges.
I’m the only female manager in our company in this role. Usually a master will come ashore to become a port manager. I’m not a master or an engineer, but not coming from that background can be an advantage; my crew know that if I don’t know the role, I’m not going tell them how to do it; I’ll ask for their input and listen to their ideas. They may not agree with every decision, but I think the guys here know that if I’m going to do something, they trust that it’ll be done right.
To see more women in management, one of the biggest challenges we face is around the exit and re-entry to work when women leave to have children. My daughter was two when I was first joined this industry, and I’ve been able to progress with the support of my husband and extended family; many are not so fortunate.
The whole idea of what is a woman’s job versus what is a man’s job has changed. Girls should continue to be encouraged to look at options from a young age, and explore different opportunities—something I’m passionate about and help promote by speaking to high school girls as part of the YWCA She Leads program. I tell them if you want to do a male dominated role, go for it, do it well, and you will stand out for the right reasons.