Globally we are hailing our frontline health workers as heroes and locally in Perth, we are celebrating the most isolated city in the world for leading the way during our most recent black swan event.
We have seen some tremendous workplace innovation, namely the large-scale shift to working from home. The case for working from home was so compelling for the sake of our health and safety that we successfully reimagined work where there was no place other than home.
For the first time, we saw more workplace flexibility without losses to productivity. We saw more family time while maintaining business as usual or steering the crisis centre. We saw more focus on measuring and valuing outcomes because we could no longer see the inputs – that is the hours worked. We saw greater communication and collaboration across operations, where all previous attempts to achieve the same results were unattainable.
So, on the other side of COVID-19 and in the absence of this compelling case for change, how do we lock in a new normal?
The analysis of the impact of COVID-19 has made some commentators eschew any objectivity or ambiguity, particularly around its impact on women, with some saying “… surely it’s a sideshow”.
The reality is the shutdown of the hospitality, retail and personal care sectors has mostly impacted women. Given the small business sector accounts for 80 per cent of jobs – mostly dominated by women – this is not a sideshow issue. It’s a business and economic one.
History has also taught us women are mostly impacted by job losses in a downturn.
Women represent 51 per cent of the population and are the majority of university graduates. They also influence 80 cents in every consumer dollar, yet women still represent 45 per cent of the workforce in Australia – less so now.
Progressive companies typically have women working for them at all levels, have great cultures, have higher levels of engagement and innovation, and even greater business returns. These outcomes alone, however, are evidently not compelling enough reasons to increase the number of women at work. There are at least 150 companies in Western Australia with more than 100 employees who do not even have a flexible working policy.
What better time is there for progressive and not-so-progressive companies in WA to rewrite the rulebook for work and create a new normal in a way that is more inclusive of women and families – yes, that includes dads – for the sake of business.
We know progressive workplaces understand three things about women and work, they:
1. Recognise the business opportunity. Creating a flexible working environment which is inclusive of women means not only tapping into 100 per cent of the talent pool, it is also giving men permission to be dads too. Put simply, dads at home give mums more time at work. Progressive workplaces also know the gender balance of their buyers, their suppliers and potential markets, which cannot always be tapped into by a homogeneous bunch of blokes.
2. Engage the majority. Engaging the majority – men in most workplaces – where accountability and the authority resides to drive change is the most effective method. It does not start with the women who represent the minority. It is not a women’s issue which needs to be fixed.
3. Align the systems. Aligning the systems means the internal policies in human resources, remuneration, promotions, recruiting, onboarding and exiting are aligned to the business case for more women at work. It also means the external-facing parts of the workplace such as business development, stakeholder management and bidding and tendering are aligned to tapping into an existing and/or potential market made up of women that may have been traditionally overlooked.
We recently welcomed the appointment of Nev Power to chair the Australian Government’s National COVID-19 Coordination Commission. Of the eight appointments, there were six men and two women.
Is there a better time, or a worse time, to acknowledge the need for balanced appointments? I am confident a commission balanced with equally capable men and women would have been best placed to reflect business, the community and the challenges and opportunities we face, not only in our national recovery, but in welcoming our new normal for better business outcomes."
First published in 'Leader' June 2020