SHARING IS LOVING AND CARING

Boo hoo, big business.

So you have to fill out an extra form to keep making all that lovely money. Diddums.

In the words of that great philosopher Chopper Read, “Harden the f*#k up”.

The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry are reportedly fighting federal government plans to increase gender equity in the workplace.

These are the proposed laws to ‘name and shame’ large companies with low numbers of female employees.

They would also be excluded from government contracts and grants.

Daniel Mammone from the ACCI has told Fairfax it would create too much red tape: “Business should be encouraged and not punished.”

Sorry, Daniel, but any parent knows you have to use carrots AND sticks.

In her submission to the review of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act, Anne Summers wrote, “Previous attempts to encourage employers to ‘do the right thing’ have been largely unsuccessful”.

In the past 30 years, the labor force participation rate of women has increased just 15 per cent.

The Director of EOWA, Helen Conway, puts it like this: “As a parent, do you believe it’s right that your daughter doesn’t have the same opportunities as your son?”

The emotional argument is backed up by cold hard facts – of which big business is usually enamoured.

The World Economic Forum argues, “Reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth. Over time, a nation’s competitiveness depends… on whether and how it educates and utilises its female talent”.

According to Goldman Sachs JB Were, closing the gap would boost Australia’s GDP by 11%

One of the major areas which needs to be addressed is flexibility, in the form of paid parental leave, on site child care, and job sharing.

Take the case of a friend who wanted to job share after the birth of her fourth child.

She found another senior female journalist who was willing to enter into this arrangement.

Then, she collated data on the increase in productivity this would bring to her newsroom.

The manager looked at the documents, threw them on the table, and said, “Well, I’m going to say no, because it hasn’t been done here before”.

Fortunately, a rival newsroom saw the benefits.

Ten years later, the Seven Network in Melbourne has two award-winning health reporters, for the price of one.

Another colleague received a similar answer from her boss, when she asked to job share so she could study law part-time to improve her chances of promotion.

“I wouldn’t know how to fill out the forms for job sharing,” the boss replied. “Sorry.”

Touted in the 80s as the way of the future, job sharing has been a slow starter with only 165,000 women and 23,000 men in such arrangements.

But times are changing.

Two middle managers from Westpac – with five children between them – were headhunted by another bank after pitching themselves as a team.

At Matrix Resources in Atlanta, Donnell-Ping is among the top four performers every year.

She has one desk, email address and phone line, but is two people: Shawn Donnell and Emily Ping.

It’s worked so well, Matrix now has six job-sharing teams among its 180 employees.

Although women are driving the trend, it’s not gender specific.

Increasingly, men want to spend more time with their kids.

A study by Watson Wyatt Worldwide has found companies with flexible workforces have a higher return to shareholders, improved staff retention, and reduced absenteeism.

You only have to be a fly on the wall at any office to know this.

The hardest workers are inevitably women in the sandwich generation, holding down a job while caring for children and/or elderly parents.

Why businesses aren’t falling over themselves to hold on to workers like this – during a skills shortage – is beyond me.

It’s a sad indictment that the government has to resort to naming and shaming to help companies help themselves.

As the former MD of Apple, Di Ryall, told a seminar recently, “I used to say ‘no targets, no quotas’. But I’m fed up with the way Australia’s corporate sector continues to discriminate against women”.

This is why Diversity Council Australia has launched its Get Flexible campaign, of which I’m proud to be an Ambasador.

You can check out the website here www.dca.irg.au/pages/flexible

Really, the sky’s the limit.

Why couldn’t there be job sharing CEOs, who brainstorm about the future direction of their company?

A feature in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine, which canvassed both the horror and success stories, concluded, “Despite the obvious problems with power sharing, a number of companies have made it work”.

What about the entertainment field? Who wouldn’t be happy with half the dose of Kyle Sandilands?

Unfortunately many managers are in denial about the benefits of flexibility.

They’re like gorillas, slowly dragging their knuckles across the polished concrete floors of the workplaces of the future.

It’s time they got a rap over those oversized knuckles with a bloody big stick.