7 March 2012

Women Building Business

With International Women’s Day virtually upon us, what better time to ponder this salient fact: Australia currently boasts the most highly educated female population it’s ever had.

The problem is, the skills and educational qualifications developed by women are not being optimally utilised. Relative to many other economies, Australian women’s labour market participation levels are low. And relative to workforce participation, we still see relatively low levels of female participation in senior and strategic positions. As a result, we have significant talent and potential going to waste. For us at the Business School, this represents a serious concern. Indeed, when it comes to economic and financial empowerment for women (a subject set to form the basis of a panel discussion this Wednesday evening at the Darlington Centre), there are several crucial areas that need addressing.

Perhaps the most obvious is the clash that frequently arises from the desire of many women to combine career aspirations and their family lives. As such, the question of how to make organisations adopt practices that will better facilitate female participation in a way that is reconcilable with parenting roles becomes paramount. Despite fairly recent legislative changes, significant barriers to increased workplace involvement still exist within some organisations. Indeed, too many Australian organisations work on outmoded assumptions regarding career track preferences and rewardable behaviors.

I believe that an assessment of the effectiveness and economic soundness of these practices is long overdue. Afterall, chopping women off in their prime is not only detrimental to those who become trapped in jobs well below their skill levels, but also to the bottom line of organisations who fail to take advantage of expertise and talent of women.

The young women I see coming through the Business School at the moment are among the most talented I’ve ever seen. They all want to go out and make their mark, and they express a strong desire to combine family and career. There has never been a more important time to address this issue.

Author: Rae Cooper – Senior Lecturer – The University of Sydney Business School

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