“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” Chinese Proverb
Your organisation has a gender equity policy; TICK. A Diversity and Inclusion policy TICK. Yet – you can seem to get your numbers up the recruitment talent pool: CROSS.
So, what are you doing to build the equality pipeline for better gender balance in the future? To get to gender balance, a long-term view is needed. And that means focussing on girls as part of an organisational recruitment strategy.
Get the girls interested
As a teenager, I was not sure of what I would do post-school. I was interested in science and curious about how things worked but I wasn’t sure what I would do ‘when I grow up’. Luckily for me, when I was sixteen I was able to do a week’s work experience at a government agricultural research centre. I loved the opportunity to learn from scientists who patiently answered my questions and explained their projects to me in the areas of soil management and animal and plant production.
When I finished high-school I chose to study Agricultural Science. Several years later, I was recruited to the same agricultural organisation as part of a special intake for female graduates, under their equal opportunity program. I ended up working for that organisation for many years and enjoyed a successful career as an agricultural scientist in a male-dominated field.
Start early on addressing gender imbalance
Many organisations are working to address the gender imbalance in their senior management or STEM areas, but stumble in their goals when they fail to attract enough female applicants for the positions; particularly in male-dominated areas.
However, when there are small numbers of female applicants it’s not enough to just complain that ‘women don’t apply’.
There’s a step that comes before we urge potential female job applicants to ‘lean-in’ or ‘step-up’. It starts with the ‘expectation seeds’ we sow with girls. When we plant the idea in young girls of a ‘yes you can’ spirit, we help girls see what they can be. And that means encouraging girls to think about jobs that might have traditionally have been seen as ‘just for men’.
In theory, there’s absolutely no reason why girls can’t aspire to be scientists. Or engineers, truck drivers, firefighters, actors, plumbers or computer game designers. But, currently, girls are missing out on opportunities for jobs in male-dominated fields that pay well, further widening the gender pay gap (around 15%).
Many organisations that have a traditional imbalance of male staff, want to see greater gender balance in their recruitment pipeline. But, to get there, more girls need to be engaged more often at primary, secondary and tertiary level.
A long-term view explores ways to feed into the recruitment pipeline well before jobs are even advertised.
Attract girls to turn on your talent pipeline
Organisations that focus on building a long-term female talent-pipeline, successfully work in collaboration with their local community, primary and secondary schools, adult education and tertiary institutions as well as other institutions that work with youth.
Many organisations have initiatives to build and nurture the interest of girls in what they do. Programs that teach girls to be MoneySmart help plant the seed of financial management and inspire confidence for girls to grow up and work in the finance sector. University programs that reach out to encourage Girls in Engineering make STEM fun. Helping Females in Trade can inspire women to consider becoming a trade apprentice.
Power up the programs
A recruitment strategy with a focus on gender equity can foster programs that sow the seed of interest in girls, female students and women graduates to consider that one day they might work for your organisation. These programs could be:
- An annual Industry Placement Program with the local university
- Host work experience students with targets for female students particularly if you have STEM areas in your organisation.
- Traineeships and/or apprentices.
- Vacation employment
- Implement a 50:50 gender quotas for each intake of these programs
Other supportive steps include avoiding traditionally ‘masculine’ language in job adverts as described here by SEEK. Or, celebrating the women that work for your organisation in your media and communication outputs, promoting events such as Women in Industry networking dinners, hosting an International Women’s Day celebration and sponsoring female students to attend, Bring your Daughter to Work Day or acknowledging star women employees in local media.
How’s your organisation, profession or sector going in taking a long-term focus on improving gender balance? Without a sustainable approach to your recruitment pool, its no use blaming women when hasn’t done the work to build that pipeline. And the best time to plant those seeds is now!
Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant in local government and gender equity advocate. In 2014 she was recognised for her outstanding leadership in her community with an Order of Australia medal.