Women at work

When leaders made a serious commitment to diversity, what happened next?

It’s alarming to think that we are in 2023, and still the research shows that:

"Young Australian women – the most educated workers in the world - feel no more respected in the workplace than they did before movements such as #MeToo, and still believe that they are being passed over on pay and promotion."

The recent report from Sydney University on expectations of women under 40 identifies the desire for respect as top of the wish list. With respect, they believe, comes stronger job security, better pay and more flexibility.

So what happened when our client made a serious commitment to diversity?

Women at Work
ASX Tech Company Case Study

(Note, specific details have been removed for privacy.)

case study

Background

Our client, an ASX-listed technology company, was developing a strategy for expansion facilitated by Allan Ryan, Executive Director, Hargraves Institute. Allan has worked closely with the Executive team and CEO since 2019. At that time, there were two senior executive women and an all-male board. Allan has helped the Board and Executive team recognise that respecting women by listening, engaging, providing opportunities, creating a sense of safety, and properly utilising and paying for skills was necessary for their success in a competitive market.

Their Commitment to Diversity

Consequently, one of the female Executive team members approached Hargraves to design and deliver a program to increase the number of women in leadership positions and facilitate an environment where women could thrive. With a highly multicultural workforce and plans to expand globally, it was also important to consider how to create an inclusive workforce for all cultures, ages and orientations.

The Program

The thrust of the program that emerged is changing the workplace so it is fit for women rather than changing women to fit into the workplace. That’s why Women@Work focuses on how to make change (innovation, collaboration) and then what to change (mindset, practices, system and culture). Participants develop skills and confidence to overcome both systemic and personal barriers. On completion of the training, participants apply their learning to a change project. One impactful initiative has resulted in a vibrant alum group of more than 70 women. A central principle is that by removing barriers for women, you remove barriers for all employees and create an environment where everyone can belong.

The Impact

Now in its fourth year, the impact of their commitment to diversity is tangible. Three women hold Board positions out of six places, including the female Chair. Three out of eight Executive team members are women. The newly appointed Chief Financial Officer credits the program for her elevation to the Executive team and remains very engaged with the program. She has encouraged all her female staff to attend the course. Further, many of the participants have developed the confidence to volunteer for committees and projects, seek promotion, and actively initiate change.

I feel like I have become more confident and am getting feedback that my public speaking has improved. Doing this program got me thinking about my personal barriers as well. It's changed everything. Even after two years, I still go through my notes, the workbook and tools when I feel I need a boost or I'm struggling with something.

From the perspective of the company, the Executive team member and program sponsor says:

"You can see the transformation quite radically for some women. But, more commonly, it's a subtle thing - slowly you see them stepping out, speaking up, and getting involved.

This program is about empowering our women to speak up and become aware of the barriers that might be holding us back. And one of the things that surprised me most was that, every so often, the biggest barriers are ourselves. The things we tell ourselves, the limits we put on our own expectations, what we think we can do and where we think we can step up and out.

This is all about stretching, getting a bit out of your comfort zone and realising we can all achieve whatever we set our hearts and minds to. And one of the great things about this program is that Tess teaches some tools and tricks and helps hold that mirror up to you to see what you can do. And while value is really for yourselves as individuals, it will flow through to your families, communities, and, of course, the workplace.

We have a wonderful alumnus of women keen to keep the learning alive, support each other, and help the company develop and create pathways and confidence to contribute to the business. To be honest, in all of my working life, I have never been given an opportunity like this."

On the back of Women@Work, the company has entered awards for diversity at work where they achieved runner-up. Most notably, the company joins a small group of companies awarded the Ellect Stars in Gender Equality.

Ellect Stars assesses the achievement of gender equality practices in the company’s board of directors and senior leadership team. A company that achieves 3 points or above is awarded Ellect Stars in Gender Equality.

Compared to other programs, this program really encourages participants to speak up, and that really improves confidence. The templates provide models, and working with others made it easier to participate. I've learnt to reframe the question and think through things from different perspectives.

Why has it worked when others fail?

According to Gary Hamel, genuine transformation in companies is rare because few leaders are capable of:

  1. Imagining radically different future states.
  2. Approaching change systematically (vs. looking for a silver bullet) and
  3. Persevering over the 3-4 years it takes to make deep change irreversible.

This company succeeded because the Board and Executive team made a serious commitment to an achievable vision. They were prepared to make real changes to systems and practices, and, most importantly, they pursued action over an extended period, even during the pandemic.

The program works because the Group CEO and the Executive team genuinely and visibly support it. They model commitment to diversity and inclusion and signal clearly that these values are important for company prosperity. The focus is not just on C-suite but rather targets women at all levels so that they can make informed career choices. As a result, they have created a pipeline for promotion.

Further, Tess Julian, the facilitator, regularly updates the program to meet emerging needs and provides ongoing coaching and support. This is particularly helpful for those pitching their ideas.

Most importantly, the Executive team provides genuine support and is open to making the systemic changes that emerge from the program.

The key features of Women@Work are:

  • By delivering one program, both online and in-person, we can include women in geographically diverse locations, both in Australia and overseas. This encourages genuine relationships outside participants’ day-to-day network and strengthens relationships across teams.
  • The program includes all women, from graduates to senior and longstanding employees.
  • Content is customised to include the latest research and data and respond to challenges as they arise to ensure the program remains relevant.
  • We focus on building a safe place for women to share their experiences and connect with each other, with breakout rooms, group and pair work to grow trust and relationships.
  • Templates, tools and models provide guidelines that build confidence.
  • We translate the learning to practical applications at work through practice and ongoing project work.
  • We provide coaching and help throughout the program and beyond.
  • Members of the executive team introduce the program and join us during breaks.
  • Past participants of the program provide support and role models.
  • Participants join an alum group to continue the conversation and learning.
  • The program is delivered by one woman with a wealth of experience, Tess Julian. Tess has designed the material and developed warm and ongoing relations with participants and the company.

Tess was very open and easy to talk to and made me feel at ease and comfortable enough to share my thoughts/comments/opinions. Tess provided ample opportunity for everyone to voice/share their thoughts/comments/ideas.

Next Steps

To learn more about this Case Study, contact Tess Julian.

To learn more about this Program, visit Women@Work. (Includes the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Canvas)

Or share this case study with the relevant person in your organisation. (Download the PDF)

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