Friday, February 24, 2012

'Workplace Redesign' only path to gender equality

Two peak think-tanks have called for a complete ‘workplace redesign’, saying workplace gender inequality will persist until organisations rethink their approach to leadership.
Despite some key advances for women in the workforce and the growing body of evidence demonstrating a strong business case for gender diversity, women remain underrepresented in management and leadership roles, and it has been shown that this affects the business bottom line. In a new joint whitepaper released this week by the Australian Institute of Management and UN Women Australia, it was argued that organisations have been slow to embrace the value-generating challenge of retaining and supporting talented women through the leadership pipeline. Yet, companies with gender-balanced leadership report increased collegiality better insights into the consumer market.
According to the report, blocks in the leadership pipeline include:
  • Lack of meaningful flexible-work options for working mothers
  • Affordability of childcare
  • Limited career flexibility options
  • Recruitment bias
  • Exclusion from informal networks
  • Unconscious bias (stereotyping and preconceptions about women’s abilities)
  • Insufficient leadership from the top— a failure to actively support women’s advancement
A ‘workplace redesign’ would involve re-thinking and then re-designing jobs to better suit the flexibility needed among the modern workforce. In particular, such guidelines that may be considered by HR include:
  • Placing limitations on the hours that meetings can be organised, for example, between 10 am– 3pm to allow for school/childcare drop offs and pick ups
  • Exploring all options for staff to work at home where possible
    Related article:
    Flexibility opens up untapped talent pool
  • Looking at offering parental leave flexibility, rather than full time leave, over an extended period (for example two years)
    Related article:
    Communication disconnect: Employers and Mums returning to work
  • Using technology, including video technology, to enable workers to fully participate in meetings while out of the office
  • Using ‘dial an angel’ services, which could be shared between many companies or work groups, to look after children or other dependents if an employee needs to attend an urgent meeting and is unable to get other care arrangements in place.
Source: HC mag

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Women make better leaders in turbulent times: true or false?

New evidence suggests that women may be better than their male counterparts in improving employee morale, motivation and performance – crucial factors that can enhance chances of organizations survival in turbulent times - according to Shabeer Ahmad on

Ahmad says that during turbulent times, "a management style that is more characteristic of women leaders really produces positive results", and that this is because:

- Collaboration becomes vital if the organization is to capture all ideas and opinions to ensure that the best possible course is taken. Women consult more with their peers and teams than men.
- Showing empathy when people are distraught will provide stability in the workplace. Women are better at expressing empathy than men.
- Similarly, responding to people’s emotional needs will ensure that they continue to perform under pressure – and women are much better at using emotions in a positive way.
- Women also tend to reduce or avoid hierarchical layers and to short-circuit communication channels, and this leads to improved trust and better communication.
- Being less aggressive will ensure that risk is reduced. Women take fewer risks than men so the organization’s chances of survival are higher.

What's your take: true or false?

Source Sphinx

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Communication disconnect: Employers and Mums returning to work

Organisations are increasingly recognising that paid parental leave alone isn’t enough to make returning parents feel supported and equipped to return to work – yet turnover of Mothers returning to work remains high.

For Emma Walsh, a background in HR and her own experiences of re-entering the workforce after becoming a mother provided unique insight into the equation of Mums returning to work. Walsh consulted her friends and colleagues about the challenges they had experienced when returning to work, and what help and support they had received. “Overwhelmingly, the answer was none,” Walsh said.

Her experiences led her to found Mums@Work,a provider of return to work guidance. The organisation is now a leader in facilitating return-to-work programs, and designs in-house programs about how to facilitate parents returning to work. At KPMG, Walsh said the proper conversations were simply not taking place. However, after increasing diversity training and providing more specialist support to returning parents, the organisation has experienced a more successful re-integration process.

According to Walsh, the way organisations tackle the return to work transition has improved. “I think there’s been a significant shift in the last six years, and we’ve seen much more willingness to acknowledge a need for flexibility for people with families, from a time when a lot of parents almost had to pretend they didn’t have kids, and just get on with it.”

Lucille Rogers, a mother of three and a former HR director with more than 15 years in the business, found that despite dropping to three days a week, the “hour’s equation” still didn’t add up. Rogers fully expected to completely transition back into her role, but didn’t account for a new variable: the emotional side of returning to work. Rogers was in the unique duel position of understanding the business requirements from a HR perspective and also as a new Mum returning to work. For Rogers, who is now a USANA Health Sciences associate, the biggest pitfall was estimating what would be achievable before taking leave. “At the end of the day, a workplace is a workplace and a business needs as many hours as they can get. But for Mum’s, they need flexibility, and of course it becomes emotional.”

Walsh said successful re-integration is achievable, and time and time again one of the main pitfalls employers make is not sitting down with the employee after they return and doing a ‘job redesign’. “So often Mums go in with unrealistic expectations about what can actually do. The focus needs to shift from what they can’t do, to what they can do.”

-Stephanie Zillman

Source: HC mag

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Diversity can lead to conflict, or respect

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Difference in the workplace often creates misunderstandings that give rise to conflict, but with the right management approach, difference can lead to respect, says Macquarie University professor of management Lucy Taksa.

Employers should recognise the fact that difference is difficult and creates issues between workers that need to be resolved, she says.

Without proper training, it's all too easy for a well-meaning manager to make matters worse instead of better when responding to difference.

The difficulty in equipping managers to deal with difference is that there's no one-size-fits-all approach.

"Somebody who has a different source of identity, whether it's sexuality or culture, even gender, may keep silent in order not to draw attention to their difference. [Or] they may adapt to the norms of the dominant group in order to fit in."

Similarly, some people don't wear religious garments or symbols because they don't want to draw attention to their faith, but others believe it's crucial to their identity.

"There's a variability in the way people respond to difference... and that really makes it difficult for a manager.

"Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes it doesn't - sometimes it leads to respect, and I think managers need to develop their skills to respect difference."
Do your managers have the necessary skills?
One of the most critical management skills for dealing with difference and fostering diversity is that of active listening, Taksa says.

"All managers, from first line up, need to have mediation training, because one of the really important elements of mediation training is active listening."

This is a critical skill, because manages who don't listen well won't mediate well.

Training should also teach managers different strategies for accommodating difference in the workplace, Taksa says.

"I think there are certain practices that should be accommodated - whether it's a prayer room or the capacity not to work on the Sabbath - there's got to be a flexibility to enable people sufficient scope to practise their differences."

Recognising and celebrating a cultural or religious festival outside the dominant culture, and giving people an opportunity to celebrate and explain their different practices - or simply "tell their stories" - can make the different more familiar, she says.

"And the more familiar [differences] are, the less conflict you're going to have [because] there's understanding."

Managers also need training in intangible soft skills like building rapport and creating a trusting environment where people don't feel the need to conceal their differences, Taksa says.

All the while, managers must be mindful that there are multiple types of difference, which can intersect.

"There needs to be a sensitivity to those choices that individuals make, and an effort not to make stereotypical assumptions.

"We often talk about diversity in terms of women, cultural background or race, religion, age, ability/disability, sexuality and so on, as if they are unitary characteristics. But of course they're not. A woman can also be gay or she can come from a culturally distinct non-English speaking background, which will affect her communication style, so there are multiple levels of oppression and potential discrimination that might occur," she says.

"In the dominant Anglo culture, we have a tendency to leave spaces between each other's statements as a sign of respect and that we're concentrating and listening to the person. But if people come from an Eastern European background, the less space the better - the more engagement. So you'll often find people from Eastern and Southern Europe sound like they're arguing and interrupting each other... but they're norms within the culture."

Because managers can encounter any number of differences in the workplace, they must be capable of being flexible and reflective. Unhappy, disengaged, or self-censoring workers should send warning signs that difference might be causing tension.

They then need to look beyond cultural and gendered norms, see whether there's an issue, and respond with sensitivity, focusing not on generalisations and stereotypes but the individual's specific circumstances and needs, Taksa says.

Managers are people too
It's vital that managers remember they too are "different", she adds.

"Often we think, 'Everyone's diverse except the Anglo-Australians', when in fact they have an identity as well, and that needs to be addressed. Nobody is without identity difference [so] it's important that managers become aware of their own sources of identity."

It follows that diversity training should not only make managers aware of prevailing stereotypes and assumptions, but allow them to identify and address their own preconceptions.

Because managers must work within systems, they can sometimes be viewed as merely part of those systems. But managers need support too, says Taksa, who recommends giving them the opportunity to "debrief with each other on the handling of differences, so they're not isolated in their handling of diversity issues".

"I think it's healthy for people to be able to verbalise or articulate their tensions and frustrations, and dealing with difference and diversity is difficult. We have to recognise it's one of the most difficult things in the world... so I think it's important for people to be able to voice their concerns."

Failure to address diversity issues can lead to a loss of talent and an increased risk of bullying and discrimination cases - not to mention low morale, Taksa warns.

"Sometimes initiatives can cost money, and if there's no direct bottom-line evidence that it's going to make money people don't want to buy into it, but that's a very short-term perspective.

"What HR managers need to do is to identify the long-term perspective and to illustrate the long-term cost of not doing things to create a tolerant and accepting environment," she says.

Source: hrdaily