Water you waiting for in gender diversity?

Voeu’s investments in water industry research have strengthened its position as a provider of specialist services for this market. This investment is aligned with Voeu’s core areas of expertise: commercial consulting, industry research, and board advisory. One area of interest has been a study into gender diversity.

Voeu is a water sector commercial advisory consulting practice. Its cutting-edge industry research has unveiled interesting correlations between gender diversity and productivity.

Voeu’s investments in water industry research have strengthened its position as a provider of specialist services for this market. This investment is aligned with Voeu’s core areas of expertise: commercial consulting, industry research, and board advisory.

One of Voeu’s key research projects is the Five Streams Project. It sets out to analyse and profile assets across the water sector. This research aims to deliver insights for organisational benchmarking and decision-making. It can also be used as a foundation for investment in innovation, technology, and resources to drive the growth of the water sector.

The research focuses on asset identification, operational performance, and financial indicators. The industry research will be divided into five streams: wastewater, potable water, recycled water, stormwater, and drainage culverts.

The goal is to provide a holistic perspective on the industry. It uses new information to complement existing data from government agencies, regulatory bodies, and industry associations.

This project offers critical benefits for stakeholders in the water sector. The analysis will provide a detailed understanding of the industry, including identifying strengths and areas for improvement. This information will be helpful for organisations looking to optimise their operations and improve performance.

Voeu’s research into gender diversity

Phase one of the research uncovered an unexpected insight into gender diversity across councils and water authorities.  Jason Marshall, Managing Director and Principal Consultant, tasked his team with getting the contact details of every mayor, chairperson, CEO, general manager, and asset leader of all the councils and water authorities around Australia and New Zealand.

As a result of collecting that information, Voeu could determine the gender diversity of senior leadership roles within councils and water authorities across the region.

The water industry tends to have far more women in top leadership figures than councils and shires.
The water industry tends to have far more women in top leadership figures than councils and shires.

Research insights

Victoria leads the sector with the largest number and proportion of women in leadership positions in local councils and water authorities. Eighty-eight women are employed in different leadership positions, representing over one-third of all these roles.

However, more issues are at play when gender diversity levels are examined in the context of the total number of positions available. The most common place for women to find a senior leadership position is as a local council mayor, with females occupying 28 per cent of around 620 available roles.

Water authorities tend to be more diverse in leadership roles. Of the 45 board positions available at water authorities, 31 per cent have a female as the Chair, with Victoria having an overwhelming majority of women as the chairperson. However, it is less than ideal that only 20 per cent of water authorities across Australia and New Zealand have a female CEO or General Manager leading the organisation. In several states, there needs to be more female representation at this level.

It must be noted that comparing the numbers between local councils and water authorities is more challenging. There are far more local councils in Australia than water authorities, so there is more chance that women are likely to be hired for such a position.

However, the comparative data is clear. It does show that water authorities are generally more likely to appoint a female leader than local councils on a proportional basis.

A higher percentage of women in more senior roles provides evidence of a ‘broken rung’ where women in entry-level positions are promoted to managerial positions at much lower rates than men. An alternative view may be that fewer females across an organisation feed into progressively more senior leadership roles.

What does having more women mean for a company?

Research published in Harvard Business Review suggested that gender diversity relates to more productive companies, measured by market value and revenue. However, this only occurs when gender diversity is viewed as “normatively” accepted or a widespread cultural belief that gender diversity is essential.

“We found that the percentage of women in telecommunication companies in Western Europe, historically a relatively gender-inclusive context, was significantly tied to a company’s market value,” said Letian Zhang, the paper’s author.

The positive effects of diversity in societies with normative acceptance of working women are not reflected in communities with only regulatory support. While regulatory approval of working women is correlated with normative acceptance, they are not the same. Some countries have culturally solid support but few legal structures in place. Others have established legal systems but cultures that are strongly male-dominant.

“Take Japan. It has some of the most generous parental leave policies [yet] stiffly patriarchal work cultures. We found that countries like Japan do not benefit as much from gender diversity as firms in Western Europe with more cultural acceptance,” Zhang said.

Therefore, workplace culture is so critical. A diverse workplace has a broader collection of backgrounds, viewpoints, and life experiences, resulting in a more well-rounded decision-making process. Creating equal opportunities for men and women to collaborate on decisions also leads to diminished risk-taking, less aggressive strategies and improved workplace satisfaction and employee turnover rates.

How this relates to Voeu

Voeu understands the importance of operational efficiency across all five streams of the water sector. While many might think about Voeu in terms of studying physical assets, it understands that any organisation has many types of physical and non-physical resources to consider. Future operational performance benchmarking incorporates an analysis of gender diversity within the enterprise against productivity metrics to give valuable insights into the correlation between gender diversity and productivity.

To solve the broken first-rung challenge, the sector also needs to actively promote women into the lower tiers of the leadership ladder. Voeu takes a holistic approach to improving client productivity and operational efficiencies by considering all resources, especially the organisation’s diversity. The more this is done, the better any organisation can perform.

Voeu is a specialist water sector advisory and consulting practice that delivers advice and improvement projects for infrastructure owners, operators, and delivery providers.

To find out more about Voeu, visit www.voeu.com.au

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