International Women's Day 2018: Achieving gender equality - our bias for action

As organisations move away from traditional command-and-control structures, a diverse and inclusive culture makes a fundamental difference in attracting and retaining the best talent to accelerate cultural change.

There is no single way to embrace diversity and encourage greater participation of under-represented groups, particularly for a business of our size and scope. Instead, real change is the cumulative effect of both developing a deep understanding of the entrenched practices that prevent participation and finding different ways to address barriers.

A major focus for our business is gender equality, an area where we continue to develop and roll out different ways to introduce true change – some big, some small. Here are five ways we’re addressing this challenge.

  1. Knowing what we’re reaching for

We can’t achieve greater gender equality without knowing the objectives we need to meet – especially in an organisation with a large proportion of traditionally male-dominated roles.

Our Board sets clear targets for gender representation as part of our broader commitment to diversity and inclusion. We have a goal to reach a female representation level of 32 per cent across our business by 30 June 2018. Our overall gender balance last financial year was a little over 30 percent female, so we still have more to do.

Gender pay equity continues to be another key area of focus and we remain vigilant about how we administer and apply policy to avoid any bias in performance assessment and remuneration decisions. When we compare pay on like-for-like roles, the gender gap as at 30 June 2017 is two percent Being transparent about this with our employees and publicly is critical if we want to make sure we are living up to our values and commitment to gender equity.

To work towards gender pay equity, we examine our remuneration data across all business units every year to identify any pay disparities that can’t be explained by factors such as levels of performance or role type. Each business unit has a dedicated budget for correcting disparities and we closely monitor the application of this budget to ensure funds are distributed in line with our core principles. Gender equality and pay equity are separate yet connected issues – improvements in one will lead to improvements in the other.

  1. Shifting the balance through focused action

While all recruitment and promotion decisions are based on selecting the best person for the role, strengthening our female talent pipeline is imperative.

In March last year, we were proud to mark International Women’s Day by introducing a Global Recruitment Equality Procedure, a requirement that recruitment and interview shortlists include at least 50 per cent female representation.

Nearly a year later, we are seeing strong results. As at January 2018, women represent around 50 per cent of interview shortlists compared to 35.5 per cent prior to implementation; this includes those roles with a 25 per cent target given the recognised shortages in the supply for some of roles – something we need to change too! The more gender balanced shortlists are translating into an increase in female hires. A simple approach is making a real difference.

  1. Finding new ways to support women at different stages of their careers

We have other targets to meet, including 40 per cent female non-executive directors and female promotion rates greater than female representation in our business by 2020. We need new ways of making this happen; we need to address some of the challenges women can face during their careers, such as taking time out to be a primary care giver or to pursue other interests.

One way forward is a new program we have developed to specifically help talented and experienced senior people to return to the workforce after a period of at least two years away.

Participants will have the opportunity to join our business in a valued and challenging role, with additional support and guidance to make a smooth transition back into corporate life. We’re currently working on placing 14 successful candidates in the pilot program in one of our major business units; if successful, it’s a model we hope to roll out throughout the business. The passion and calibre of the applicants was amazing with many shared stories of the significant challenges of trying to re-enter the workforce after an extended period away.

  1. Encouraging different generations to bridge the technical skills gap

Like most organisations, we have a clear gender imbalance in some areas of our business: bringing more women into roles where there is a known significant gender imbalance in the job market is an ongoing challenge.

We’re taking a number of approaches – both short and long-term – to drive applications and target active female job seekers right now, to reach women at early stages in their careers or at a university level, and to invest in generational programs to encourage more women to choose a technology-focused career path.

Investing in education initiatives like ‘code clubs’ for girls in schools and digital making parties focused on building STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and digital citizenship skills in grassroots communities, classrooms and public libraries across Australia makes a difference.

  1. Actively seeking different thinking

Innovation and the ideas to disrupt the status quo to drive diversity and inclusion can come from anywhere in the organisation – top down from the leadership team, bottom up from the front line, and everywhere in between. The challenge is to bring the great ideas to light.

One way we’re nurturing different ways of thinking about gender equality is through Brilliant Connected Women, a vibrant and active network of almost 3,000 Telstra women and men who champion gender diversity and equality.

Part of Telstra’s Diversity and Inclusion program, the network is open to all employees and connects women at all levels through networking, mentoring, educational forums and events, and a focus on transforming our environment to further the inclusion of women.

None of these actions will bring about gender equality on their own – and nor do we intend stopping here. In the same way digital technologies are revolutionising our world, there is a need to search relentlessly for better solutions to support diversity and inclusion.

In a world where change comes from a bias for action and bold ideas, one thing we cannot do is get comfortable.