Keen to boost profitability and innovation? Survey says women hold the key

Coates Hire CEO Murray Vitlich.

Hiring more women to the workplace is not just about ticking the diversity box for a company.

Research clearly shows that having a diverse workforce provides measurable benefits to any business, particularly when it comes to profitability.

One study of 1700 companies across the globe found that those with a more diverse management and staff have 19 per cent higher revenue due to innovation.

And McKinsey research, featured in Harvard Business Review in the United States, found that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.

For 135 years Coates Hire has been male dominated, but that is slowly changing.

A major obstacle to change for any company, let alone a company the size of Coates Hire, is that the way things were done for many years have worked.

Coates Hire’s success ensured change never needed to be a business imperative, so for more than a century it did carry on with a very low female participation rate.

In something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, it then became hard to attract women to join a male-dominated workforce.

But change was needed as the business world digitally transformed and evolved. The company was reliant on paper processes for invoicing, and the website needed a refresh to improve the customer experience.

We also had not acknowledged the history of our first people which needed to be addressed.

Change started at the top when our board recognised the need for it.

We developed a transformation agenda as part of the business’ growth strategy, with people practices and cultural transformation at the very heart of it.

The company set the target to increase its representation at the senior level by at least seven per cent by 2025.

We now have women in the roles of group manager of corporate comms and sustainability, group manager of organisational effectiveness and group manager of strategy and customer experience, to name just a few.

We have begun a significant digital transformation, which includes reshaping our customer experience; from the look and feel of the website to the development of applications and changing how we engage and interact with customers.

We also took our first steps towards developing meaningful and respectful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders through the launch of a Reconciliation Action Plan. And we’re set to launch a sustainability strategy in June.

It’s no coincidence these changes came as the company progressed towards a more inclusive work force.

Women make up 18 per cent of our workforce, and 15.5 per cent of our leaders.

The roll out of conscious inclusion training is designed to change preconceptions around women in the workforce so that, during the hiring process any gender bias is nullified.

This is aimed to get women through the door more readily, and to keep them here, a new leadership program will develop high potential female talent every year.

With a data-driven approach, we are actively looking to hire more women to management roles.

But we’re doing this not just for the sake of equality or fairness, but because there is a cost in doing nothing – and that cost is business growth and innovative thinking.

Research has found inclusive teams make better decisions 87 per cent of the time, while another found 56 per cent of companies, with revenues upwards of $10 billion, strongly agreed that diversity helps drive innovation.

McKinsey research highlighted female participation has slowed, sitting at a rate of about two-thirds that of men globally, and that tangible progress toward equality in work and society was stagnant in the five years between 2014 and 2019.

Furthermore, a decline has set in amid the pandemic; the Harvard Business Review found that, while women make up 39 per cent of global employment, they’ve accounted for 54 per cent of job losses since May 2020.

The phrase “Old Boy’s Club” is used less to describe how many people on the board are men and more to highlight how an organisation is stuck in its ways, repels innovative thinking and new ideas, and elevates other people who think the same way.

This is a perception that everyone wants to avoid. But it should be less about the perception of it being an Old Boy’s Club than the reality of that club being held back by archaic business thinking and process.

To break that reality, we must choose to challenge the status quo and elevate new ideas, to enable a greater emphasis on inclusion, diversity and progressive thinking.

Murray Vitlich is chief executive of Coates Hire.

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