HR leadership: Gender equality starts in your own back yard

by Janie Smith17 Jul 2014
Colleen Harris knows first-hand how much unconscious bias can influence a person’s career.

The EGM people and culture at shopping centre ownership and management company Federation Centres is passionate about gender equality and told HC that HR could – and should – influence both the type and pace of that change.

“I think as HR leaders, we’re in a unique position to get people thinking differently about the traditional roles and traditional career paths for people and how we make sure that we have gender equality at senior levels across all organisations in the medium term.

“We can challenge our colleagues across the business to look differently at the types of skills and experience they need for particular roles. They can look in different pockets for individuals and continually ask, if they don’t have a gender-balanced team, why not? What’s stopping people from having a gender-balanced team?”

Harris grew up wanting to be a pharmacist until unconscious bias changed her path.

“I went to work experience at a pharmacy and there was a male also there doing work experience. He got to stand behind the counter with the pharmacist for the week and I got put out the front with the shop assistants.

“I don’t think that was a conscious decision; it’s unconscious bias in action. How do we change the way people think about the types of career paths and roles and make sure that we’re not unconsciously cutting out either gender from particular roles?”

She said HR could encourage businesses to look at how traditional career paths could be changed to attract different types of job candidates – people who had developed the skills needed for the role, but had done so in a non-traditional way.

Encouraging gender equality was also important in the HR profession, which has traditionally been female-dominated.

“There are more men than you think, particularly at senior levels. My leadership team is gender-balanced. I think we’re seeing more men coming into the field and we’re seeing that across the function.”

Harris said that traditionally, men were attracted to the more technical HR roles, but there were increasing numbers taking on more general roles across the function.  

“You’ve got to have it [gender equality] happening in your own back yard so you can be credible when you’re talking about it.”

How do you think HR can influence gender equality?


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