Women in the workplace: Past, present and future

7th March 2018
Women In The Workplace: Past, Present And Future

A man waves goodbye to his wife as she stands in the doorway – a child in each arm and one holding tightly to her leg. He heads off to work in the city – he's a CEO and has a seat on the board. She stays at home. He is the sole source of income for the house. She is the primary carer for all three children.

For a long time, this was the way things worked. There was no discussion of women in the workplace, because women simply weren't there to begin with. Fast forward to 2017 and these roles have been flipped on their heads.

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, both parents are employed in nearly 60 per cent of families. In fact, there were nearly 69,000 Australian families with stay-at-home fathers in 2016.
Since the 1970s, Australian women's role in the workforce has gradually evolved. While the crusade for both equal pay and representation still rages on, there is no denying that the professional world is no longer a boy's club.

As of February 2017, women made up 46.4 per cent of the Australian workforce, based on research by the Australian government. Nearly 60 per cent of all female residents are currently working.
We've made some considerable progress, but where have the struggles been? How has the modern workplace evolved to respond? What can employers do to support their female workers more effectively? And what work is left to be done?

The recurring struggle: Women and work-life balance

Juggling the needs of your household with your professional ambitions – it's a difficult balance that has historically stood as a roadblock for women in the workplace. There never seems to be enough time for both.

It's worth saying upfront that this dilemma is predicated on the idea of women as primary carers. It's a biological and historical notion and while it is certainly viable for men to take on this role, we are working off what we know: Women generally feel responsible for this realm.

It's admittedly hard to give yourself wholly to two different spheres. You want to be performing at 100 per cent in the workplace, but what does that leave for your home life? It's no wonder that the number one thing women want from employers is flexibility – they are constantly trying to find ways to make their work lives and their personal lives fit together better.

How have modern workplaces responded to this issue?

Luckily, there's never been a better time for this. Employers everywhere are learning that a rigid nine-to-five structure isn't always the best approach to maximum productivity.

Research has shown us that when you feel fulfilled in your personal life, your work improves as a result. Meaning, if businesses accommodate work-life balance, they ultimately benefit from happier, more engaged team members.

This understanding has led to a lot of exciting developments. Employers are not just committing to flexible work policies, but investing in resources to improve work-life balance. Investments include things like access to professional coaching, resources to help with maternity leave transitions, consultation appointments with well-being specialists and beyond.

How can employers continue to support female employees?

But investing in these kinds of resources is only the first step. Employers must do more to actively encourage the use of these initiatives.

Currently, one of the biggest roadblocks to achieving work-life balance are the employees themselves. Oftentimes, female professionals are reluctant to give themselves permission to actually strike work-life equilibrium, according to our executive results and precision coach, Rebecca Fox.

"You have to let go of that cultural conditioning," she explains. "You're allowed to be a mom and an professional. You're allowed to make your kids wait for an hour or two. We need to learn to let go, to delegate tasks to our partners or our family members. This is the key to finally achieving equilibrium."

That's why it's so important for employers to not only invest in the right resources and create the necessary policies, but also practice this work-life balance themselves. Employees need to believe that this kind of behaviour is acceptable and even encouraged – the primary way to do that is leading by example.

Beyond work-life balance, employers need to focus on what women want out of their careers. Fox points out that women predominantly want five key things from employers, in the following order:

  • Flexibility
  • Meaning and purpose
  • Opportunities for growth
  • Shared values
  • Pay equity

Employers should be actively promoting initiatives aimed at these core themes. This will not only engage your female staff but promote a sense of overall investment in the office. Especially when you consider these same values are desired by male employees in the workplace, says Rebecca.

What still needs to be done?

The act of progress is almost always slow-moving. Getting to a place where maternity leave doesn't necessarily mean the end of your career, living in a world where flexible work hours are encouraged to keep employees happy – these shifts didn't happen overnight. Women before us have paved the path, they're why we get to stand where we are right now.

But we're not done yet. We'd be foolish to think sexism doesn't still have a seat in the workplace, and we know gender equity isn't yet a reality. Consider this: There are currently more men named John running top Australian companies than there are women combined. Research from Australian consultant Conrad Liveris uncovered that there were more male leaders named John, Peter or David than there were women (of any name) in the ASX 200.

"To be a captain of Australian business you are 40 per cent more likely to be named Peter or John than to be female," he said in an interview with ABC.

"Straight, white, able-bodied men aged 40-69 years, which represents the majority of Australian leadership, are 8.4 per cent of the population. Such a narrow pool of executive talent does a disservice to organisations, shareholders, the business community and Australia overall."

The proof is in the numbers.

  • Research by PwC and AICD found that companies with the highest levels of market capitalisations are the ones with the highest proportions of female board members.
  • Another study conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that there is a positive correlation between women in corporate leadership and performance.
  • Further research by MSCI, discovered that companies in the MSCI World Index with strong female leadership generated a return on equity of 10.1 per cent per year versus 7.4 per cent for those without.

There is massive potential for business success if we just focus our efforts on equity in leadership positions. We need to look at our recruiting methodologies. We need to have fair and equitable strategies around talent management. We need to be smart about how we approach internal development. We need to keep our employees on maternity leave engaged. We need to remember to keep them on the short-list for promotions. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us.

We have come a long way from the days of delegating women to carer roles and yes, we still have a long road ahead of us. But if we've made it this far, just think about the possibilities our futures hold.

Picture this: A woman waves goodbye to her husband as he stands in the doorway – a child in each arm and one holding tightly to his leg. She heads off to work in the city – she's a CEO and has a seat on the board. He waits for his nanny to arrive then heads off to his part-time job in town. She is the primary source of income for the house. They share the caring responsibilities for their three children.
Are you excited? We know we are.

To learn more about how SeventeenHundred can help you and your staff with transitions, empowerment, work-life balance or anything in between, reach out to one of our team members today!