Advancing Women: Awards for innovative strategies

Holding Redlich is one of several companies that have been recognised for investing time and money supporting and advancing women through their careers.

LAW firm Holding Redlich wanted to retain staff members who decided to have children, so it introduced a Parenting Partner Plan.

Each state office has a designated parenting partner, who meets with women who are expecting a child and want to maintain their career.

Child-care services, working from home and working part-time are among the options discussed.

Holding Redlich won last year's Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) award for Outstanding Initiative/Result for the Advancement of Women.

Holdling Redlich partner and Melbourne office parenting partner Andrea Tsalamandris said the parenting partner plan was one of two main initiatives. The other was the provision of a mothers' room.

"There are facilities for private expressing of milk and for it to be stored privately, without people needing to know what's going on," Ms Tsalamandris said.

"This would ideally be probably for part-time mums who four days a week feed their child during the day, but the days that they're in the office they need to express so they've still got a supply there," she said.

Another important aspect of the program was that women had an advocate within the partnership ranks to act on their behalf.

At Holding Redlich, women comprise 67% of the senior management team, 48% of senior associates and 26% of partners.

Ms Tsalamandris said with women making up the majority of law school graduates, the firm could not afford to lose senior female lawyers.

"Business-wise, it was an essential thing to do," she said.

IBM Australia

IBM Australia won the EOWA award for the Leading Organisation for the Advancement of Women (more than 500 employees).

IBM diversity manager Kylie Nicolson said her company did not want to lose women "just because they've taken some time off."

"If you have a look at the current demographics, the average age of having a first child is about 32, and so by the time one gets to 32, they've had a lot of experience and we really can't afford to lose that," Ms Nicolson said.

While there may be more female law graduates, Ms Nicolson said numbers of female IT graduates were decreasing.

IT companies have to work hard to attract women in the first place.

On average, women make up 16% of the IT industry workforce; IBM has double that figure at 33%.

Ms Nicolson said IBM offered 12 weeks parental leave at half pay for a baby's primary caregiver, and offered parental leave seminars before that person stopped work.

"They're about, how do they cope? And how do they think about what they're going to do when they come back? How do they keep in touch with the business while caring for a newborn?"

Managers are also provided with a checklist to remind them what they need to do to stay in touch with employees on parental leave.


Another award-winner, Westpac bank, also works with its managers to advance women within the company.

Managers attend a leadership course focused on diversity, and learn how to make the most of the capabilities of each individual in their team.

Diversity manager Niki Kesoglou said the course corrected an underlying notion that treating people fairly meant treating everyone in the same way.

"It's not about treating everyone the same to be fair," Ms Kesoglou said.

"It's actually about leveraging the different experiences and the different capabilities people have," she said.

Ms Kesoglou won the EOWA award for Diversity Leader for the Advancement of Women.

She said another program, Westpac Women Achieving Their Potential, was targeted at women in middle management roles.

"I realised there was a bottleneck of women in middle management who weren't pulling through into senior roles," Ms Kesoglou said.

She said the program had produced a three-fold return on investment.

The bank found 23% of participants had been promoted and 19% had moved into different roles at the same level to expand their skills and broaden their management experience.

RSPCA Victoria

At RSPCA Victoria, there were no women in executive management roles when chief executive Maria Mercurio arrived four years ago.

Now, women comprise 67% of the executive management team.

Ms Mercurio said she introduced a new "people management framework" to address built-in barriers and prejudices common to many older organisations.

"My goal was to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to succeed," Ms Mercurio said.

"And I think that is the basis of equal opportunity, that we start to address the barriers that prevent women in particular, but not just women … from succeeding," she said.

In practice, that meant allowing "great flexibility" to women returning from maternity leave, and providing opportunities for training, particularly for young women.

Ms Mercurio said the changes at the RSPCA were not rocket science.

"We've done a lot of good things that add up to opening the field," Ms Mercurio said.

"Again, it's just looking for all of those barriers that are sometimes just embedded in the practices of an organisation," she said.

"Once you kind of un-earth them, then it's easy to shuffle them out of the way."

This article first appeared in Business Community Intelligence, February 2007