On the 15th of March, the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) held a Women in Rail Networking Lunch to both celebrate the Rail industry’s improved gender diversity and discuss how to push for a more diverse future.
SCG’s female workforce, who makes up 30% of the company, attended this event along with key top management players, who are responsible for driving gender diversity progress. At the end of his speech, one of the key speakers Bob Herbert, Chairman of the ARA, succinctly reminded all the companies and their management teams that “the buck stops with you” when it comes to pushing for progress, providing opportunities and shaping the future of rail. It was a valuable reminder that the change can’t be driven by the women within companies alone, but that everyone has to become a champion of change.
Currently, 21% of the Australasian rail workforce are women. This puts SCG slightly ahead of the curve. However, within SCG and across all companies who operate in the rail industry, there is still a significant amount of ground to cover before we reach 50/50. The ARA’s ‘Gender Diversity Report Card’ indicated that 99% of respondents to their diversity survey had a formal policy or strategy in place that specifically supports gender diversity. However, on average their governing bodies were 81% male. So where are we going wrong?
Rene Lalande, CEO of Transdev Australasia, has proven that significant change can be brought about by introducing parental leave schemes that mirror those of Northern European countries where they are experiencing more success with gender diversity in the workforce. His suggestion was that the first six months of childcare be given to the primary carer, usually the mother, and the second six months should be given to the secondary carer. With this sort of policy in place, both parents have the same amount of time off from work to care for the child and the child is positively influenced by having increased involvement of their other parent in their life. This sort of parental leave plan allows for women to get back to work earlier than they may have previously, so their career is on hold for less amount of time, and also increases the happiness and well-being of their male staff, who also want to be involved in their children’s upbringing. Overall, both genders are away from work for an equal amount of time after the birth of a child, and that change will be reflected throughout all levels of the business.
This strategy tied in and complimented what former speaker Lisa Annese of the Diversity Council of Australia had addressed. She noted that in countries with more gender diverse workforces, there were also lower rates of male suicide. This is usually because of the increased influence of both parents when a child is young. Due to more flexible parental leave options, children are being exposed to more diverse roles for men and women in the workforce and at home. She added the importance for men to realise that there are benefits for them in working towards gender equality; ‘men gain when women gain’. Benefits to men are particularly seen in the areas of well-being, relationships and parenting.
Lisa Annese also addressed the merit argument. She noted that ‘merit’ is very subjective. It is determined by the individual or group in power. Therefore, more often than not, people being hired on merit are being hired because they fit the preconceived notions of skill and experience that Anglo-Celtic men believe you need for the job. Oftentimes, other candidates, whether of different racial background or gender, are overlooked because they have different skills that don’t fit within this outdated notion of merit, but could have done as good, if not better of a job than the person hired. Differences are strengths when it comes to building a company, and the larger the range of experience and qualifications a company is drawing on, the more they will succeed.
Anne Koopman, Head of Quality and Lean Manufacturing at Bombardier spoke of the importance of mentors for young women in the industry. She noted that men feel ready to apply for a job when they meet 60% of the criteria, whereas women don’t even feel ready to apply when they meet 80% or more of the criteria. Thus, an important role of a mentor should be encouraging women to step up and apply for roles that they think they are ready for. Even where the woman doesn’t get the job, it’s still a confidence boost and they may consider applying for more challenging roles in the future. This is a particularly important point for SCG to take note of as many of our female staff have not had children, therefore, addressing the work/parenting balance only goes part of the way to addressing gender diversity in the workplace. Mentoring and encouraging women to apply for roles within our industry is as important, if not more, than leave and flexible working arrangement policies, as all women benefit.
As a team, SCG undertook an activity at the lunch. We were given the statement, ‘if there were employment terms and workplace practices that supported more flexible working arrangements then…’. The below graph was our final result, showing how a change in policy could benefit the company and our employees.
Overall, the networking lunch was eye-opening and informative. SCG felt proud to acknowledge that a lot of the recommendations that key speakers had for championing gender equality were already in place. We have a flexible working arrangements policy that a lot of our employees currently utilize to help them better manage their study, family commitments and wellbeing. Moreover, Alan Burns, our director, takes his mentoring role very seriously. He wants to pass on his years of experience to the next generation in the industry and build up a strong team who will continue to take SCG from strength to strength. We collaborate where we can with universities, graduates and take on interns. However, there is more to do, and SCG will look at addressing some of the suggestions made at the lunch at our next Mission and Vision Statement Workshop with the whole team.
SCG supports the ARA in their push for progress. We will continue to be a driver of change and hope to boast an even more diverse workforce by next year’s International Women’s Day.
Eliza St Hill
Project Support – Strategic Connections Group