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COVID impacts gender diversity in the workplace in unexpected way, says report

As COVID-19 continues to put pressure on sourcing staff, more than 79 per cent of Australian businesses are using new ways of working to create a more inclusive environment to attract and retain female talent, according to Grant Thornton International’s Women in Business Report** which surveys senior leaders from 5,000 businesses across 29 economies.

In the early days of the pandemic, few could have predicted the lasting effect COVID-19 would have on traditional ways of working. But now as we move into living with the virus, and the workforce manages hybrid working conditions, businesses are recognising that change was needed, and the march toward more inclusive working practices continues.

At 57 per cent, over half of Australia’s business leaders agree they have seen external pressure increase from stakeholders – including customers, regulators, suppliers and investors – on their organisation to achieve and maintain gender balance as a result of COVID-19. This is good news for women looking to either advance their career or to get into new roles.

Greg Keith, CEO Grant Thornton Australia, said: “With International Women’s Day just around the corner on March 8, it’s important to bring local and global strategies to the forefront that will assist women to increase workforce participation and fulfil more senior roles across all industries. These strategies may include extended paid parental leave, flexible working conditions including working from home and working from overseas, and internal mentoring programs and built in coaching to support gender equity – all of which we actively have in place at Grant Thornton Australia. Through the pandemic we’ve continued to expand and deliver on our Gender Equity Action Plan and will be focusing on several new initiatives over the coming months.”

Here at home, 75 per cent of Australian respondents expect the impact of COVID-19 will continue to benefit women’s career trajectories long-term as new ways of working become the norm. This could be an indication that a step change is on the horizon but in the meantime, the number of women in senior management positions in Australia continues to sit at 32 per cent in 2022, the same as in 2021. While any progress is positive in light of COVID-19, this figure has grown by ownly ten percentage points in Australia over the past eight years, showing that while progress is being made, it is at a sluggish rate.

“To create more opportunities for women in senior leadership roles, business leaders need to champion the cause of gender diversity and create inclusive cultures in which a wide range of voices are listened to. Leadership from the top is key to driving change as is setting clear diversity and inclusion goals against which progress can be measured. It’s important that business leaders are in it for the long term, and vocal about what they are doing to drive change in their own companies so that others can learn from their experience – collaboration is fundamental to successful outcomes,” Greg Keith continued.

On a global scale, nearly two thirds (57 per cent) of mid-market leaders expect the skills shortage to be a major constraint to their businesses in the year ahead. Grant Thornton’s research shows that in response, 95 per cent of mid-market business leaders from all over the world are now taking action to foster staff engagement and create an inclusive culture as businesses strive to attract and retain a more diverse talent pool.

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