10/02/2011 - 00:00

A lead role on gender issues

10/02/2011 - 00:00

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THE terms ‘International Women’s Day’ and ‘Women’s Empowerment Principles’ may rekindle memories of the undergraduate feminist movement for some, but according to Parsons Brinckerhoff’s group people executive Joanne Conradi, investing in the development o

A lead role on gender issues

THE terms ‘International Women’s Day’ and ‘Women’s Empowerment Principles’ may rekindle memories of the undergraduate feminist movement for some, but according to Parsons Brinckerhoff’s group people executive Joanne Conradi, investing in the development of women is a vital ingredient to doing good business.

Eighteen months ago the planning, environment and infrastructure firm developed what it calls its Australian women’s network, which Ms Conradi heads, putting in place a leadership team to actively aid the development of the female component of PB’s 2,500 strong Asia-Pacific workforce.

PB is signifying the centenary of International Women’s Day on March 8 by signing the ‘CEO Statement of support for the United Nations’ Women’s Empowerment Principles’ – a set of values for gender equality that is driving PB’s change.

Ms Conradi said the principles provided a framework and structure for developing leadership, health and safety, education, training and personal development, enterprise development and public accountability for PB in terms of gender equality.

She said the outcomes being achieved in the organisation in conjunction with the Women’s Empowerment Principles were anything but tokenistic.

“Anything that has the word female or gender or women in it can be confronting, and it is really what you do with it,” Ms Conradi told WA Business News.

“Yes, we do want to focus exclusively on gender to start creating this feeling of an inclusive environment, or to make sure we are really serious about it, but it is not about becoming too tokenistic about it either.”

She said no matter how negative the connotations or reactions to female-directed initiatives may be, the issue remained prevalent and needed to be addressed.

“While a company that is not publicly listed doesn’t have to report on this stuff, if you are not doing something in this area that is progressive, then you will fall behind the eight ball,” Ms Conradi said.

“It is beyond compliance now ... it is about best practice.”

PB has initiated an accelerated development program, which is not just for women but has been successful in attracting and developing a new management talent pool within the organisation.

Twenty staff members are adopted into the program each year, which offers them external mentoring and coaching in professional development.

“We weren’t doing anything proactive to make sure we have the next level of talent being prepared or ready, willing and able to move up in the business,” Ms Conradi said.

“We have seen some really good results from having the program in terms of being able to draw from that pool for new positions as they pop up.”

The demand for these sorts of programs within the female segment of PB staff is evidenced by the statistics; while women only make up 30 per cent of the workforce, 43 per cent of participants in the ADP are female.

Another program the company runs under the women’s network is specifically tailored to women and offers mentoring, networking and professional development opportunities.

“Our approach with mentoring is about making our female talent more visible than it is now, and to create far more networks,” Ms Conradi said.

Mentoring has been widely accepted as a tool for professional development in recent years, with advocacy groups such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors developing a professional women’s mentoring program to encourage females to chase roles as directors.

Entrepreneurial advocacy group Advantage Foundation’s Make Me A CEO program is a Western Australian initiative aiming to bolster the number of women in executive roles – something that has been earmarked by the AICD as key to meeting the soon-to-be-established gender quotas for ASX200-listed companies’ board of directors.

Advantage Foundation founder and Australian Experiential Learning Centre chief executive Tracey Hodgkin said the program was developed for the same reasons as PB developed its mentoring program – to improve women’s confidence and networking opportunities.

“The program was developed so the women could set out to say, at the end of the program, ‘I will be an executive manager, general manager or a woman of influence within an organisation’,” the former Telstra Business Woman of the Year said.

The Make Me A CEO program will launch officially later this month and is tailored to mentoring 15 women from diverse industries. It will aim to build networks and relationships so the 15 candidates can climb the corporate ladder more efficiently.

 

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