Australia Markets closed

New attitude for women and work

Nareen Young welcomes efforts to get more women into the senior executive offices of corporate Australia but wants the conversation about workplace diversity to be much broader.

The number of women in senior executive offices has been placed in the spotlight with the release of the Business Council of Australia's new resource kit for big business to increase female representation at the highest levels.

Nareen Young, chief executive officer of Diversity Council Australia (DCA), applauds the efforts of the Business Council, which wants to have half of senior roles in its 100 member companies filled by women within a decade.

But the DCA boss wants the same equality awareness to spread throughout workplaces everywhere.

Right now, she says, Australia gets a four out of 10 for its achievements.

It's not enough for businesses to point to high achievers like Westpac boss Gail Kelly as evidence that women can go anywhere in the workplace.

As a mother of two herself, Ms Young is aware of the sacrifices involved in building a career.

"I've been in leadership in organisations for 15 years now but I want it to be easier for the women who come after me," she says.

While media attention has been focused on women in boardrooms and executive roles, not enough attention has been paid to women elsewhere and to the importance of a modern, flexible workplace, Ms Young says.

"Careers and leadership mean different things to different people," she said.

"A career can mean working up to becoming a leading hand - it's never been just about senior positions.

"That is as much a career as any other form of career is, and attention needs to be focused on the entire Australian female population."

On Tuesday the DCA will stage its Annual Diversity Debate, where the topic will be whether flexible work is the key to workplace equality.

Ms Young says a major attitude change towards flexible work will be a key plank in ensuring women and men can forge a successful career while managing family responsibilities.

"It seemed to us, after many years of working around it, that part time work was still seen as something that women do after they've had babies," she says.

"It's marginalised, it's not taken as seriously and it's not seen as career work."

A central part of the problem is the broader community perception.

"We need a major community mindshift - it's still viewed as girlie work," Ms Young says.

"There are lots of employers that are trying to do their best, but they get lots of resistance, particularly in middle management ranks."

"People are scared to work flexibly even if they want to, because they will be seen as `the part-timer'."

Speakers at Tuesday's debate in Sydney, among them journalists Tracey Spicer and Annabel Crabb, will address the desire among men for flexibility as well.

The idea of men working as househusbands is still confronting for many people, Ms Young says, although a generational change is creeping through.

"The whole Gen-Y demographic is having a different view, they want to spend more time with their kids," she says.

"In many ways it's a response - they were raised by `80s dads who weren't around.

"It is changing, and I think it's a reaction to how we've been."