Gender diversity pivotal to utilities’ successful innovation

Posted 5 September 2016

Gender diversityGender diversity within all levels of business is crucial for successful innovation, according to one of Australia’s most senior water chiefs, and utilities must first find ways to support female talent or risk being left behind. 

While the water industry now enjoys a higher percentage of female workers than ever before, women are still less than half as likely as men to be senior managers. 

Queensland Urban Utilities CEO Louise Dudley said this issue must be addressed if water utilities are to innovate successfully. 

“At the end of the day, our workforce should be a representative of the community we serve,” she said. 

“We're contemplating a future where utilities need to be much more customer focused. We need to be more innovative and forward thinking. Without diversity, I don't know how we're going to get there. It’s really that important.”

As a result of this, Dudley said diversity is a no-brainer for companies looking to succeed.

“If you just pick female or male staff, you cut your potential capability by half. On any business case: if you start out thinking like that, you fail at your first step,” she said.

“Diversity is essential to ensuring you've got good robust views, insights, and creativity coming from all parts of your organisation.”

Achieving gender diversity requires a strong focus on the professional and personal needs of female talent, Dudley said, which in itself requires more innovative management styles and an inclusive company culture.

“If you recruit somebody into a culture that’s not inclusive, then they're not likely to stay. They won't feel valued, their voice won't be heard,” Dudley said. 

“There are so many opportunities coming up for women. As an organisation, if you present a hurdle to women in doing their best work, they will go somewhere else.”

South East Water Chair Lucia Cade agrees, stating that flexibility while maintaining options for progression is crucial to ensuring female talent stay satisfied and feel supported. 

“The women I have spoken to leave their roles in organisations for a number of common reasons. These include a lack of, or very slow, career progression, a lack of senior role models to aspire to, and being stigmatised as ‘not career-focused’ if they need to work part-time after having children,” Cade said. 

“Many women need to work part-time for a while and part-time roles are, generally, technically and managerially inferior. This is dispiriting.

“Once working part-time, some women feel they have been assumed to not have career aspirations or be truly committed to their careers. This, too, is dispiriting.”

Cade said female talent needs to be nurtured if companies are to achieve gender diversity and the first step is to drop the misconception that flexibility equals less value. 

“I have pulled up people who describe people as ‘only’ working part-time,” Cade said.

“I point out that they are also ‘only’ paid part-time and their productivity per hour spent at work is often exceptionally high as they cram as much into a working day as they can. 

“How many full-timers take that attitude every day?”

To read more about gender diversity within the water industry, read the full feature in the latest digital edition of Current magazine.