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Accelerating the share of women in management

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Tuesday, 19 December 2017


Although men typically hold more senior positions in the paid workplace than women, this gap is shrinking. The question is, how fast should it shrink in the future?

Authoritarians will favour quicker action than libertarians, because authoritarians are less likely to concern themselves with the injustice to individual boys and men of an accelerated shrinking of the gap in managerial positions or of creating a less productive organisation.

The Government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency has some reasonable advice on how increased female representation in management might be achieved. It calls on organisations to advertise for all positions broadly, and to critically assess whether the criteria they use for recruitment and promotion are in the best interests of the organisation. The Agency also outlines how, if the pools from which staff are recruited have a higher proportion of women than current management, the proportion of women in management will naturally rise over time.

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However, the Agency also gives some insidious advice that would sacrifice justice and productivity in order to accelerate the achievement of a higher proportion of women in management.

The Agency advises that female turnover can be reduced and prospects for female promotion boosted by increasing workplace flexibility and the use of 'sponsorship' programs to help female staff achieve their full potential.

Workplace flexibility means allowing working-from-home, part-time work and working irregular hours, and directing more of an organisation's payroll towards paid leave rather than hourly wages. This might be good for the individual beneficiaries, but it is likely to inhibit the work of other staff and lead to less getting done at greater expense. A drop in productivity is assured if it is not part of the conversation when workplace flexibility is under discussion.

And female-only 'sponsorship' programs are inherently unjust. It means that when there are two staff members with similar qualifications and potential, the female employee is developed, mentored and shepherded towards promotion while the male employee is not.

How can anyone with a son think this is the right response to past decades of mistreatment of daughters? Visiting the sins of the father on the son is both immoral and lazy thinking. It is as if we see the injustice of blacks being ordered to sit at the back of the bus, and our response is to order all white folk to sit at the back of the bus instead.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency unashamedly advises organisations to recruit and promote a higher proportion of women than the proportion of women in the pool from which an organisation promotes and recruits. So if an organisation is looking for 20 recruits from a class of 40 engineering graduates, only six of whom are female, the Agency would advise the organisation to hire more than three of these women (and thus fewer than 17 of the men).

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So if you are one of the male graduates, being in the top half of your class might not be good enough. But if you are one of the female graduates, you might gain a position even if you are in the bottom half of your class.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency calls on managers to report on whether they achieve their female recruitment and promotion targets, but does not call on them to report on any of the individual injustices or hits to productivity that occur along the way. Like so many authoritarians before them, the Agency either ignores or does not care about the means to its end.

Gender-blind recruitment is a worthy goal, but we are not heading in that direction. Instead we are being encouraged to see gender as the first and most important thing.

There are perverse consequences from a preoccupation with group identity rather than individual attributes. For example, while women managers are in the minority in most industries, they are the majority of managers in health care, social assistance, education and training.

True gender equality would necessitate promotions in these fields being skewed towards men rather than women. This would cause untold injustice for the women who deserve promotion, and damage the productivity of these industries whose importance will only grow in coming years.

It is said that when powerful men have daughters, they start to fight for women's rights in the workplace. But they should also think about the future of their sons.

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This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.



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About the Author

David Leyonhjelm is the Liberal Democrat Senator for NSW.

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