As celebrations kick off around the world for International Women’s Day 2020, gender equality and inclusion will be firmly on the agenda for many businesses. But Coates Hire CEO, Murray Vitlich, longs for a time when this no longer makes headlines. “Just like the many other issues we face, I’d like to think that in time we won’t need to have this kind of conversation anymore, because equality has become business as usual,” says Murray.
To mark this occasion, Murray took time out to talk about what gender equality means for Coates Hire. He also shares his views on where we are now and how we can work towards a future where equality becomes the norm.
The right thing to do
According to Murray the need for equality as a basic human right is pretty clear – “it’s just the right thing to do,” he says. Looking beyond social justice, Murray also recognises the business case behind equality. “Creating a more equal and diverse workforce attracts the diversity of thought and perspective that we need to be successful today.”
Coates Hire’s customers are moving in a similar direction too, Murray explains. “And if you’re the one left standing still and not evolving, you’ll be doing your business a disservice in ways you’re not even aware of. You’ll also miss out on the opportunities that equality and diversity bring to the table.”
Backed by action
No matter how good the intention, it’s no longer enough just to hire more women. “This approach improves equality on paper, but unless you also focus on inclusion and engagement you won’t encourage loyalty, or the discretionary effort of a workforce that feels supported and wants to go the extra mile,” says Murray.
To back this sentiment up with action, Coates Hire is currently rethinking its recruitment language. “We need to welcome and appeal to a wide variety of talent, because if we’re only recruiting from half of the population we’re only looking at half of the best people” says Murray. “Why limit the business like that?”
Coates Hire is also beginning to address pay parity. But beyond salary, Murray believes businesses need more on offer to engage and support people. “Irrespective of gender, as a baseline we need to offer genuine flexibility, support people when they start a family and as they return to work. These are important initiatives across our workforce,” he says.
Introducing flexible working arrangements remains an important focus for Coates Hire too. “One of the main challenges we all face is the perception that only the female members of the workforce need and want this,” says Murray. ”There’s a tendency to link flexible working with women because of their role as mothers and care providers, but flexibility is equally valuable for men and for husbands too.”
Another initiative Murray supports is addressing unconscious bias. “Personally I’ve benefited from wonderful leaders in the past that have shaped my views and helped me to see that we all come to the table with natural biases,” says Murray. “By offering unconscious bias training we are supporting our people in recognising and eliminating this bias.”
Strategically, Murray favours influencing gender equality through engagement. “We don’t want people standing back and saying: “here comes another one from head office – lets hunker down and it will pass,” Murray jokes. “Our strategy is about embedding equality and inclusion in our values, then bringing these values to life.”
The role of leadership
When asked about the influence of his leadership, Murray plays his contribution down. “I don’t see my role as being pivotal – it’s just the responsible position to take,” he says.
On joining the business there was some catching up to do, but in his short time as CEO it already feels like things are moving on. “Gender equality is a strategic priority for us. We’ve set new gender targets for all leadership roles, and following some recent senior female appointments we now have a greater diversity of influence on the direction of the business” Murray says. “We didn’t set out to find women for these roles, but I was happy to vote for the best person and the best fit for the company.”
What does the future hold?
As a father Murray would like to think that his daughters will one day have the same opportunity and prospects, and be paid the same as any of their male counterparts, in any job or industry. “My wife and I have raised our daughters to believe they can do anything they want to,” says Murray. “I hope that gender won’t be a barrier for them, because they shouldn’t stand for it and neither should we.”
When asked – as a leader – what the future holds, Murray comes back to ‘business as usual’.
“I hope that gender equality and inclusion will one day become part of the rhythm that our organisation works to,” Murray concludes. “That might feel like a stretch right now, but it’s where I want us to be.”
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