Women winning at diversity

by 13 Dec 2006

The University of South Australia has received recognition through winning national awards at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry/Business Council of Australia National Work and Family Awards, the 2006 Diversity@work awards and the Equal Opportunity in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) Awards, the latter being for employer of choice for women in the workplace.

Ninety-six percent of women on maternity leave returned to work at the University in 2006. We’ve worked hard over the last four to five years to introduce a range of innovative flexible work arrangements to help both women and men manage the dual responsibilities of work and family, however, family is configured. Staff surveys show that staff rate UniSA highly on work-life balance, and retention rates are similarly positive, with over 51 per cent of staff being employed for more than seven years.

What has contributed to our success? We listen to the needs and concerns of staff. This gives us deeper insight into the organisational culture and barriers. And we find that consultation and feedback from staff generates a number of possibilities that we can then explore further. In preparing for our 2004 Enterprise Agreement, some women identified child care over the summer holiday period as a challenge. We took this on board and investigated a number of possibilities. As a result, staff now have the opportunity to exchange their annual recreation leave payment for four extra recreation leave days in addition to their 20 days of recreation leave.

Attracting and retaining talent makes good business sense at any time but particularly in a competitive labour market. One of the significant outcomes and major benefits of work-life initiatives for UniSA is strong evidence of a loyal, committed workforce.

Developing and implementing work-life policies and practices is not seen as the responsibility of the HR director or other HR professionals. The commitment to work-life balance is expressed at every level of the organisation and is embedded into corporate statements, collective agreements, performance management, practices, policies, facilities and programs.

Champions at the top make a difference. Not only does our vice-chancellor, Professor Denise Bradley, provide outstanding leadership and commitment to family-friendly initiatives, some of our senior male managers utilise the policies and lead by example in balancing work and family commitments.

We realise that rhetoric and reality can differ and we monitor our practices and progress through various mechanisms, including research projects. In 2005, we looked at women’s experiences around our maternity leave provisions to see if practice matched policy. We are very interested to work with a research partner to investigate the effectiveness of family-friendly and work-life policies and practices.