TEN LAW firms were among 131 organisations Australia-wide to receive an Employer of Choice for Women citation this year from the Federal Government’s Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA).
However, there is debate amongst human resources professionals within the industry over the real value of these and similar awards.
Mark Thomas, director of people and development at Minter Ellison, said receiving an Employer of Choice for Women citation was of little tangible benefit to the firm which is why they didn’t participate in the awards this year.
“Businesses like ours get asked to participate in numerous surveys and some are really labour intensive in terms of the amount of time and energy we need to put into them. The question that we need to ask is, ‘What’s the value that we get out of completing those surveys and getting the award?’. If we are in a situation where pretty much the whole industry gets the award, it’s not a point of differentiation that helps attract people. Do we actually recruit people because we have that award? There’s no evidence to suggest that,” he said.
Thomas believes that potential employees now take for granted equal opportunity policies within large firms.
“Now everyone just expects [equal opportunity policies]. People expect, quite rightly these days, that firms consider the needs of the workforce and balance that with the operational demands of running the business,” he said.
“It’s really about the end value — that’s the critical thing. We were amongst the first firms to receive this citation and we’ve received a couple. But does it actually make a difference in terms of being able to attract people? Maybe initially but nowadays they just expect these things,” he said.
However, human resources directors from firms that were awarded the citation this year disagree with Thomas’s comments.
Cindy Carpenter, executive director human resources and marketing at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, said the awards are a point of reassurance for potential employees.
“I think that recruits see it as a reassuring factor in their decision making; I don’t think it would drive an ultimate decision because that’s going to be based on the quality of the firm and its people. But it lets them know that Corrs is female-friendly,” she said.
While Carpenter agrees that submissions for awards can take a while to prepare, she believes it’s a worthwhile investment.
“They do take a week probably to put the submission together, but we find that it’s important on two dimensions for us. First, it’s recognition that we are on the right path, which is important as we are investing a lot in gender diversity. And second, it’s an independent benchmark judged by experts. So we aren’t just relying on how we think we’re going — we value that independence,” she said.
Jane Lewis, head of human resources at Sparke Helmore, also believes the awards are important to potential employees and says the fact the Sparke Helmore has been awarded the citation every year since 2003 demonstrates to potential employees that the firm has a progressive culture that took into account the needs of women before most others.
“I think it’s absolutely important — specifically to women. It’s an important part of any talent strategy. Employees are looking for quite specific things, so proving you are a responsible and nurturing employer is very important. In terms of the differentiator, it’s not so much in terms of policy, it’s the culture of the organisation and that’s much harder to replicate,” she said.
Similarly, Liz Ryan, director of human resources at Maddocks, said winning such an award can only help a firm’s reputation, in demonstrating that they are catering for the needs of their staff.
“I think we’ve always enjoyed a below-industry average of turnover and I think the nature of our culture, our policies and our flexibilities along with winning the award have assisted us in that. Our HR policies are good for everyone at Maddocks, so we’ve been able to attract very good quality male and female candidates,” she said.