Ugly truths and the battle of the bulge

The boards of publicly listed companies are supposed to represent the interests of their shareholders. So it was interesting to read the latest research into gender diversity amongst board members of ASX200 companies.

I guess the good news is that there is now one company out of the 200 with roughly even gender representation on their board. The ugly news, was that there were 10 companies in the top 200 who have zero women on their board.

This certainly isn’t a new problem, with plenty of research to suggest diversity improves business performance (and this one is worth reading too). Groups like the 100% project and the Australian Human Resources Institute have been lobbying heavily for change in recent years. But it is seems that most ASX200 businesses would prefer to wait until the government forces them to act. In case you were wondering, the Australian Bureau of Statistics currently estimates that there are 99 men for every 100 women in Australia.

I have heard many people argue that organisational culture causes gender imbalance, but I think that is really putting the cart before the horse. Leadership shapes the culture of an organisation.

While it is starting to seem likely that legislation will be introduced by government to force gender quotas and diversity outcomes,  gender quotas are likely to be little more than an unfortunate distraction.

ABS estimate of median age
ABS Comparisons of Median Population Age for 2010

The reason is one of simple population demographics. ABS population measures show that Australia’s workforce is rapidly aging, due to the huge population bulge caused by the infamous baby boom in the 1950s. Half the entire population of NSW is 37 years or more in age, and the fastest growing population segments are people over 65 years.

Workforce and succession planning are already critical problems for some industries. Healthcare, education, and mining already struggle to fill junior positions and retain skilled employees. For work that can’t be moved offshored, international recruitment programs are already essential for filling some skilled jobs.

In some organisations, outdated recruitment and employee development strategies are clearly part of the problem. In an era of workforce mobility and freelance contracting, why do so many organisations still focus their recruitment programs on young university graduates? Why create situations where experienced employees have no career progression and aspire to achieve a redundancy payout, when skilled positions are difficult to fill?

Walk around the cubicles of some large corporates in the Sydney CBD, and you will struggle to find an employee over the age of 45. Gender is just one dimension of workforce diversity that leadership teams should be considering.


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