For all the complications of the gender divide in the corporate world, the basics of listening – to clients and to employees – is a simple part of a bigger remedy.
The chasm between men and women with pay, workforce representation and economic independence draws a flurry of debate every year, particularly around International Women’s Day. It also creates a lot of noise and distraction from working towards an equal opportunity future.
Solutions, historically, have focused on the female side of the equality equation. Maternity leave for women, female-focused programs and platforms, diversity targets and quotas are a few examples. These also attract their share of noise and criticism.
Noble and often necessary as these initiatives are, the conversation has extended beyond that among women, and employers are catching up.
A useful prism for where debate has landed in the workforce context comes from a ‘Listening Tour’1 that Elizabeth Broderick – former sex discrimination commissioner in Australia – embarked on as part of her work for the Human Rights Commission. Ms Broderick is also an independent expert on discrimination against women for the United Nations.
The stories and opinions of women in the workforce formed a clear message: family and home responsibilities remain the domain of women, not men, and that is career limiting. On average, men have more freedom to commit to their careers, because they are not equally running a household. With that as an overwhelming piece of feedback, it follows that the role of men in the workplace, and at home, is an equally critical part of the gender equality conversation.
“I’m not into fixing women,” Ms Broderick said, near the end of her term as commissioner in 2015.2
“We need to remove occupational gender differences,” she said. “If I could just do one thing as sex discrimination commissioner, it would be to have better sharing of unpaid work and caring.”
Points of progress
One point of progress to celebrate this International Women’s Day is the rapid growth of flexible working provisions worldwide. Although they are often used by women, their availability to men moves to shatter the expectation of women being solely responsible for domestic duties. It also speaks to a central tenet of Ms Broderick’s work – don’t “fix” women, fix the system.
Flexible working has another added benefit where it is universally available: it creates a baseline of accessibility for a broader spectrum of talent, their lifestyles and their location. This is regardless of whether a person has children or is married.
“Flexibility is not related to a generational need. Every employee, at any age, benefits from and is looking for its availability,” said people experience leader for PwC in the United States, Anne Donovan, in the Harvard Business Review3. She was recounting her learnings on PwC’s flexible work policy.
“For us, flexibility is not about working less, but it is about encouraging people to work differently. It’s a two-way street. We give our people the flexibility they need when they need it, and sometimes, we need them to give more when business demands require it,” she said.
“When done right, flexibility results in a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce. And it helps attract the best employees, and makes them want to stick around.”
This position is echoed in the views of AMP Capital’s female leaders throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Their collective experience with flexible working arrangements helps them be more productive, because they aren’t forced to compromise on a lifestyle decision or commitment to a client based on their location.
Hyojin (Jean) Kim, manager for business development for AMP Capital in Asia, lives in Hong Kong, away from her family in Korea.
Flexible working allows me to commit to my job and to my family.
“Besides, with unfolding situations like the Coronavirus, having the flexibility to work from home, which includes myself at this moment, is not only important for our safety, but also allows us to continue maintaining our work and follow-up with client needs in any situations,” she added.
Representatives from AMP Capital in Tokyo share similar views. At the moment, gender roles in the household are front of mind in Japan.
For example, environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi recently became the first cabinet leader to take paternity leave, after the government last year adopted a policy allowing male public servants to take more than a month of leave with the birth of a child4. Also, Japan is facing its future as the world’s oldest population, with dwindling numbers in its workforce and an explosion of people at retirement age. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has penned women as a crucial component of boosting the workforce, where they’ve been traditionally underrepresented.5
There is a lot in the media also about women coming back to work after taking paternity leave. To me, that shows that corporations have worked out, and are starting to provide, systems that allow them to come back to work after having babies, which is a positive improvement.
said Naoko Machida, from AMP Capital’s product and marketing division in Japan.
“Comparing working at AMP Capital to others, I think we are definitely lucky here. I don’t fit into the category of having children, or wanting to reach a high managerial position – but flexible work is available to me and gives me freedom to meet personal and professional goals.”
The voice of the client
A critically important consideration in the structure of a workplace and workforce is whether it meets client expectations and can deliver on client goals.
There is a growing body of research worldwide which speaks to the productivity and profitability case for companies catering to a diversity of thought, talent and experience – and gender diversity is a core part of this thinking.
“The changes taking place in our industries today are unprecedented. We need new ideas, creative approaches and fresh perspectives, which can only come from having diverse voices in the boardroom. We need to hear from people with a variety of work and life experiences, cultures and backgrounds. And we certainly need to hear from more women,” EY said in a 2018 report6.
“The evidence is clear. Having more women in senior roles helps businesses to innovate and perform better. Improving gender diversity must therefore be central to any business’s strategy to navigate disruption,” EY said.
For Judy Ye, chief representative in AMP Capital’s Beijing office, considering client expectations is a crucial part of conversations about gender representation in the corporate world.
Women often understand clients very well, and bring diversity of thought for meetings and projects. If you put yourself in the shoes of the client, and you want to win the market, you need to represent different skills and different ways of communicating, solving problems and taking feedback.
Similar to her colleagues across Asia, Ms Ye sees flexible work as one enabler to women in the workforce, laddering up to a representation of talent and experience that meets client needs.
“Flexibility is helpful and productive for our employees in China, especially for people with families. These arrangements allow people to still focus on their jobs, and not lose their careers after having a family,” she said.
Delivering for clients is a paramount focus for managing director of the Asia-Pacific region at AMP Capital, Craig Keary, and he sees flexible working arrangements as “the right thing to do, and the productive thing to do.”
Simply put, flex for performance leads to better business outcomes. From a social aspect, it is absolutely the right thing to do. From a work perspective, working with your talent’s location and lifestyle choices as opposed to against them is powerful.
“Further, AMP Capital is a global company. To meet our client needs we need and availability in different regions, different time zones, and different cultures,” he said.
“Fundamentally, we need to reflect this in how we work, and how we deliver to our clients.”
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