Women in the workplace – from little things, big things grow

By Dr Kim Johnstone, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA.

5124 MBA StudentsDoing an MBA is one of those things that will develop my skills and my career. What I have been less prepared for is the wider impact of what I am doing.

In the second semester last year, I did a unit called Managing People and Organisations. It focused on diversity and the future of work. The unit’s main group project was to identify a diversity goal for an organisation and propose a plan to achieve it. My group focused on my workplace and how it could increase gender diversity in its pipeline to senior management.

Currently, there is gender equity in the most senior positions (three out of its six top executives are women, including the boss), and there is about 40 per cent representation of women at middle management level. But in between, in the talent pool from which the future senior executives will be drawn, only one in five positions are filled by women. My group’s project targeted this talent pipeline, and proposed recommendations on how to get more women into it.

After delivering the project, I did not give it much thought. But then in February I was asked if I could present the report’s findings to a meeting of one of the diversity committees. A week later I was asked to present it to the senior human resources group at work. And then I was invited to a meeting with the boss to talk about the project and its recommendations.

In addition to my presentation, the women’s network at work was re-established. A women’s committee was set up, chaired by one of our women deputies, and a draft women’s plan was developed, drawing heavily on the recommendations in the MBA project.

For me there has been some great benefits. The MBA project got me in front of the most senior people in the organisation. I have become a sounding board within HR for the women’s plan, and play a lead role on the women’s committee.

What’s more important for me is the ripple effect across the organisation. When I did my project last year, the women I worked with were saying that while we had a woman at the top, we did not talk about women in leadership. A year later, the women’s plan is being finalised and is about to launch. There is a budget being set up for actions within the women’s plan. The senior executive is talking about the diversity pipeline. And my agency has agreed to be a project partner for current students doing the Managing People and Organisations unit.

It is hard to measure the impact of last year’s MBA project. At the very least we can say that the agency I work for is now talking about women in leadership. While I expect more to come as the women’s plan is implemented, the ripple effect of conversations about diversity and leadership should not be underestimated. As a famous song in Australia about Aboriginal land rights goes, “from little things, big things grow”.

Originally published by The Financial Times Limited 2017 MBA Blog on November 25, 2016.
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