A low level of representation of women in senior roles can be a significant contributing factor in an agency’s gender pay gap.
The importance of women in senior roles
Increasing the participation of women in senior roles within agencies should be seen as a business imperative. In an environment of increasing labour shortages, attracting and retaining the skills of women and expanding the pool of talent available for leadership positions is invaluable.
Increasing female representation in management also has inherent benefits in terms of fairness and equity. By increasing the representation of women in senior roles agencies can be seen as employers of choice by women and the wider community.
In this context the term ‘senior roles’ is used to describe positions with management or supervisory responsibilities, as well as roles that involve decision making powers at senior levels.
Is there a problem?
A pay equity audit will assist an agency to determine if there is a lack of representation of women in senior positions.
Any substantial lack of female representation at senior levels could be indicative of systemic barriers to women’s progression. It is important to analyse the existing data to determine whether a lack of women at senior levels is explainable and justifiable, or whether it is a result of systemic barriers to advancement.
Lack of women at the ‘feeder’ levels of senior positions
The clustering of women below a particular level may signify hard barriers limiting their progression. This sort of employment pattern could be caused by a number of factors. Women may be leaving the organisation once they reach middle management level, due to either real or perceived lack of developmental opportunities. A lack of flexible work arrangements, and long hours associated with flexibility of senior management positions may discourage those women with the capacity or desire to progress from doing so.
Lack of access to part time employment at senior levels
There is a commonly held belief that it is not appropriate for part time employment to be made available to managers and those at senior levels. Women are significantly over represented in part time employment and this needs to be considered when assessing workplace practices. Many women use part time employment to balance caring and work responsibilities and any workplace practices which significantly impact upon part time workers will have a disproportionate effect on women. An organisation that does not offer part time or job share arrangements at senior levels could be exercising unintentional gender bias and limiting the scope for women and men with caring responsibilities to progress.
Lack of promotional or developmental opportunities for women
A lack of promotional opportunities for women will obviously result in their decreased participation at management levels. For example, there may be an implicit assumption that women, particularly those with caring responsibilities or those in part time employment, do not wish to become senior managers. There may also be impediments to progression among certain occupational groups. Where these occupational groups are predominantly female, this could be considered indirectly discriminatory.
A lack of promotional or developmental opportunities for women not only disadvantages individuals, but also results in a lack of participation and the inability of a large portion of the workforce to contribute in any meaningful way to an agency. It is good business practice to facilitate the participation and contribution of all staff within an agency.
Lack of networking opportunities or mentoring schemes for women
The ability to progress a career often relies on informal networking and mentoring of aspiring managers early in their career. Often there is little in the way of a formal process to provide these opportunities. Thus, much of the mentoring and networking occurs on an informal basis.
When these types of opportunities are presented out of business hours, this restricts the ability of workers with caring responsibilities to participate. Women carry a disproportionate share of caring responsibilities, and so any networking opportunities that occur out of business hours without due consideration given to those with caring responsibilities limits their capacity to fully participate in the organisation.
There are a number of strategies employers can use to ensure that there is equal access to promotion and development opportunities within their agency.
Accessible quality part time work at senior levels
A genuine commitment to part time and job share arrangements at senior levels will open up the capacity for part time workers to seek promotion to management levels. This sort of flexibility opens up the pool of eligible workers and results in the appointment of the most suitable applicant. It also sends a message to staff that an agency values its employees and is committed to ensuring equality of opportunity at all levels.
Access to quality part time work at senior levels will also assist agencies to attract and retain mature age employees. Part time work provides flexible work choices to both men and women who may not wish to work full time. Agencies facing skills and labour shortages can offer part time work and other alternatives to retirement to retain skilled and experienced mature age employees.
Formal networking and mentoring schemes for women
Mentoring can be important for career progression, and programs that encourage women to participate in mentoring will increase their opportunities for advancement. A mentoring scheme could target women at particular levels and provide them with the opportunity to develop skills in which they have previously had little experience. A formal mentoring scheme also sends a message to female employees that their ability to contribute to the agency at all levels is valued.
Organisational change and modelling of behaviours
The implicit and unspoken messages within an agency can be very powerful. Where there are few examples of women at senior levels, limited access to part time employment at senior levels, or family friendly policies that are never utilised, these practices can be perceived as organisational norms, and discourage women from aspiring to senior positions within the agency.
Workplace policies that express a commitment to equal opportunity or workplace diversity cannot be effective without a proactive management agenda that applies these policies in a real sense.
When managers model best practice behaviours, they help to develop a quality (or a more equitable) workplace culture that benefits all employees. Such behaviours may include encouraging appropriate women to apply for senior positions, actively supporting the use of family friendly policies, or accommodating requests for part time or job share arrangements. These practices demonstrate a commitment to staff regardless of level or caring responsibilities.
Change the nature of management positions
There is a strong argument for changing the nature of management positions where this will encourage a greater number, and increase the quality, of applicants for these positions. Providing more flexibility within senior positions will make these roles more attractive for everyone. This can be achieved through encouraging a greater work life balance for everyone, including managers, and focusing on outputs and achievements rather than simply on hours worked. Setting reasonable targets, working reasonable hours and allocating reasonable workloads all contribute to making management positions appealing for a larger number of potential applicants.
There are a range of reasons why poor career development for women may contribute to an agency's gender pay gap.
A pay equity audit may identify if there is a problem with career development for women within an organisation. If the pay equity audit shows that women in the agency are clustered in lower level jobs and are poorly represented in senior or management roles, career development may be a problem.
- women are not undertaking appropriate training for promotional opportunities
- the nature of male occupations makes it easier to progress to management roles and
- women are disadvantaged by taking time out of the workforce for child rearing reasons.
Ensure female employees can participate in training
Career progression for women may be restricted by a lack of training and development opportunities. Agencies should support all employees, including part time employees, to undertake training and development opportunities that are not just relevant to their current position, but also to future career development and promotional roles.
The availability of training and development opportunities should be widely publicised to ensure that all employees are able to express an interest in participating. This helps to overcome possible inequity due to managerial assumptions about employee suitability, interest and availability for training.
Introduce quality part time work at all levels
Quality part time work should be available for women and men at all levels in the agency. ‘Quality’ part time work is work in which employees are part of the regular workforce, and have access to training, development and promotional opportunities. Part time employees should be seen as valuable contributors, and provided with work that is meaningful and satisfying.
Establish a succession plan for the agency
Succession management focuses on assessing the future skills needs of the agency, and implementing programs to ensure that a wide pool of talent will be available when necessary to fill vacant roles. A formal structured approach to succession also allows the skills of all employees, male and female, to be developed to meet the agency’s needs.