Why diversity is a hot button issue

By 2055, Australia’s workforce participation rate will be 2.2 per cent lower than the 62.4 per cent it is today.

If your business is looking to attract and retain talented people, hold on to your hats.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Last week, the Australian Government released its fourth Intergenerational Report, which argues that our nation’s prosperity is at risk unless we work longer, boost productivity and attract more women into the workforce.

And there is the crux of why workforce diversity has become a hot button issue. As Ken Morrison, the Property Council’s CEO, said recently, “this isn’t a diversity issue, it’s a business issue. The biggest challenge of any business will be getting the right people – and ensuring they stay.”

This is certainly a conundrum for the property and construction industry. Just 13 per cent of employees are female – and this has remained static for at least the past decade. EY’s compelling new report The next big deal is on finds that women leave our industry well before they start having families. Why? Because “younger women see the writing on the wall” and move to other industries where they believe they’ll gain more opportunities for career progression and work/life balance.

To tackle this, we’ve established Property Male Champions of Change, the first industry-specific group of 22 male CEOs focused on boosting workforce diversity. As Morrison says, “we’re starting with the dominant power structures” – with the male leaders stepping up to take a leadership role.

Diversity is not only a problem for property and construction. Women make up 51 per cent of Australia’s population, 46 per cent of the paid workforce, 60 per cent of university graduates, and yet just three ASX200 companies have female CEOs.  On average, a woman graduate’s starting salary is $5,000 less than that of a man doing the same job.  And the pay gap has widened to 20 per cent in recent years.  We’re going backwards.

It’s inconceivable that 49 per cent of Australia’s population could possess 100 per cent of the skills and abilities. The Intergenerational Report should act as a clarion call to any business leader thinking about how to win the war on talent.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia