Gail Symons harbours a lifelong passion for gender equality, diversity and inclusion. In her role as Executive General Manager, People and Safety at Coates Hire – as in all aspects of her life – Gail is deeply invested in achieving equality and focused on breaking down systemic bias, wherever she sees it.
In recognition of International Women’s Day 2020, Gail takes the opportunity to share some of her own thoughts and personal experiences. She also offers some hard-hitting facts on how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.
“Today the conversation around gender equality and diversity has moved on”, Gail explains. “I no longer feel the need to defend gender equality or present business cases – it would be ludicrous in today’s environment to have to do that,” says Gail.
But whilst the conversation has moved on, our work is far from done. “At our current rate of change women will wait another 110 years to earn the same amount as men, and it will take generations to close the global gender gap, “ says Gail.
Making it personal
Gail is known for her ability to combine confronting truths with highly visual data and emotive styles of communication. And it’s not uncommon for people to feel quite emotional when faced with the facts.
I’ve asked my previous CEO how it feels to learn – as a father – that his daughters have only a 9% statistical chance of following in his footsteps as a CEO. I’ve asked my son if he feels OK knowing that if he and his best friend worked in the same job, for every $1 he earned, she would earn just 80c” says Gail. To create accountability and move gender equality forward, it has to be personal.
Unpicking unconscious bias
Under the leadership of Gail and Murray, CEO of Coates Hire, unconscious bias will be a strategic focus for Coates Hire. “There are so many ways that unconscious bias affects us all, from our policies and decision making, to how we recruitment, our language and job titles – even the way we arrange furniture in our workplace can foster bias” says Gail. “This systemic bias can make women feel like their workplace isn’t geared for them. It’s our job to find and remove this bias so that all people can feel like they belong.”
We all carry unconscious bias, but many people won’t recognise that they do. “That’s why it’s critical to provide tools that can change people’s thinking and remove discriminatory behaviours,” says Gail.
Rethinking parental leave
Parental leave is an area of gender equality that saddens Gail. “Only 5% of men in Australia are taking on the carer role at home,” says Gail. “Men simply are not choosing to stay at home, so we need new thinking to equalise these choices in the way the Scandinavian countries do so well’
Let our actions speak louder than our words
Gender equality targets are another important step forward for equality at Coates Hire. “Our CEO is very supportive and he put a target in place - for women to fill one quarter of all leadership roles within five years” says Gail. “Currently we are tracking at 18%.”
Coates Hire’s leadership is supportive of gender targets in long and short candidate lists too – particularly in traditionally hard to fill areas like sales and engineering. “We’re also looking at pay parity and a number of strategic initiatives, and feedback from across the business has been entirely supportive,” says Gail.
How do we keep moving forward?
It’s important to celebrate our achievements. Gail appreciates the commitment of the Coates Hire’s CEO and the willingness of its leaders to go to the next level of change and transformation. She also sees a lot to celebrate in terms of strategy and leadership. But being overly positive won’t help this agenda move on.
“Compelling evidence tells us that taking a “merry” approach to issues like this can work against creating accountability and commitment” says Gail. “People tick the box and then take themselves off the hook.”
To mark International Women’s Day in 2020 Coates Hire is planning a series of strongly supportive – and also fierce – conversations about the gender gap. “We need to continue presenting the facts and challenging the way people think by asking the hard questions and making decisions which interrupt systemic bias,” says Gail. “This is the cut through that will keep us focused on what we are working towards – and remind us why it really matters.”
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