COVID a factor in the drive towards gender diversity

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As COVID-19 continues to cause staffing issues, more than 79 per cent of Australian businesses are using new ways of working to create a more inclusive environment to attract and retain female talent.

According to the latest Grant Thornton International’s Women in Business Report, which surveyed senior leaders from 5000 businesses across 29 economies, the pandemic’s impact, which has led to the aforementioned staffing issues, as well as the rise of hybrid and remote working setups, has led some businesses to recognise the need to continue providing more inclusive working practices.

Already, 57 per cent of Australia’s business leaders agree they have seen external pressure increase from stakeholders – including customers, regulators, suppliers and investors – on their organisation to achieve and maintain gender balance as a result of COVID-19.

“With International Women’s Day…it’s important to bring local and global strategies to the forefront that will assist women to increase workforce participation and fulfil more senior roles across all industries,” Greg Keith, CEO Grant Thornton Australia, said. “These strategies may include extended paid parental leave, flexible working conditions including working from home and working from overseas, and internal mentoring programs and built-in coaching to support gender equity.

Three-quarters of Australian respondents expect the impact of COVID-19 will continue to benefit women’s career trajectories long-term as new ways of working become the norm. This could be an indication that a step change is on the horizon but in the meantime, the number of women in senior management positions in Australia continues to sit at 32 per cent in 2022, the same as in 2021.

While any progress is positive in light of COVID-19, the report pointed out that this figure has grown by only ten percentage points in Australia over the past eight years, a sluggish rate compared to other countries.

“To create more opportunities for women in senior leadership roles, business leaders need to champion the cause of gender diversity and create inclusive cultures in which a wide range of voices are listened to,” Keith said.

“Leadership from the top is key to driving change as is setting clear diversity and inclusion goals against which progress can be measured. It’s important that business leaders are in it for the long term, and vocal about what they are doing to drive change in their own companies so that others can learn from their experience – collaboration is fundamental to successful outcomes.”

On a global scale, nearly two thirds (57 per cent) of mid-market leaders expect the skills shortage to be a major constraint to their businesses in the year ahead. Grant Thornton’s research shows that in response, 95 per cent of mid-market business leaders from all over the world are now taking action to foster staff engagement and create an inclusive culture as businesses strive to attract and retain a more diverse talent pool.