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Loss of female workers costs billions

AUSTRALIAN EMPLOYERS need to lift their game, and fast, if they want to retain their valuable female workers, a social commentator has warned.The costs of replacing women who leave their…

AUSTRALIAN EMPLOYERS need to lift their game, and fast, if they want to retain their valuable female workers, a social commentator has warned.

The costs of replacing women who leave their employment due to unrealised career expectations is literally costing Australian business billions of dollars each year, according to Fabian Dattner, partner at consulting firm Dattner Grant.

“Companies are starting to quantify the cost of losing women managers. We believe that this cost has escalated to around three times the salary of the individual,” she said.

Fattner surveyed 70 business decision makers from the government, public and private sectors for the Purpose and Spirit in the Workplace report. Organisation size varied from three to 35,000 people with turnover from less than $500,000 to $4 billion. The report covered the entertainment, retail, manufacturing, communications, finance and service industries.

“Business leaders are thinking about introducing accountability measures for the loss of female managers and are concentrating on changing how they encourage women to stay on in the workplace. They have introduced gender-neutral remuneration systems and flexible modes of work including part-time employment and career break programs but it’s not enough,” Dattner said.

Fiona Krautil, CEO of The Asthma Foundation of NSW, agreed that unrealised career expectations were a significant problem for many women.

“Yes, equally talented women have been unable to progress up the ranks of corporations at the same rates as their male peers. Research shows they are not given the same career making assignments as their male peers because they are perceived as having a higher risk of failure than their male peers,” she said.

“Women get assignments or roles based on their performance whilst men get them based on their potential. Women get trained for their current role men get trained for their next one.”

When leaders were asked in Dattner’s research why they thought women leave their companies “they gave reasons ranging from being treated differently to men, inequity in salary and benefits, effects of gender stereotyping, having to be 50 per cent better than male peers, not fitting into the male corporate culture, being excluded from the high potential group, lack of mentors because of sexual connotations, and having children,” she said.

Women are also excluded from the internal networks where critical business relationships are formed, she added. “They are sidelined or choose staff roles over line roles so they do not get the experience they need to progress up the organisation.”

For example, she said 50 per cent of women have been graduating from law for 20 years yet less than five per cent of partners in law firms are women. “You only need to look at the annual report pictures of executive teams across Australian business to see a dearth of executive women in 2005 and if there are any, they are usually managing HR or legal - important roles but not the critical business roles for the organisation.”

In a climate where organisations are struggling to understand and implement what it takes to attract, train and retain top quality staff in general, holding onto good female employees will be critical, Dattner warned.

“The stereotypes we have about men and women in leadership impede the ability of both men and women to contribute fully in terms of who they are as people,” she said.

Women have wised up and organisations need to better manage and encourage staff to ‘work to live’ and not ‘live to work’.

“But women are far more sceptical today of the legitimacy of offerings in the workplace. There has been a lot of rhetoric, and only scattered translation into reality. The fact is many women are genuinely questioning why they are doing what they are doing,” she said.

The progress of better work/life balance in the workplace has been slow and chequered. “Part time work has become a reality in contrast to the early nineties but employees generally step off the career path if they choose to take advantage of it and it’s hard to step back again,” Krautil said.

“The experience of employees with accessing flexibility in the workplace is still often patchy and supervisor dependant.”

See Women in Law this week on page 22.

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