Yolanda Beattie, a former executive with the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), has been appointed by Mercer, the global talent consulting specialist, as diversity and inclusion practice leader. In her previous role, Yolanda was responsible for increasing the WGEA’s reach and influence though leading public campaigns, strategic partnerships, stakeholder engagement and innovative education programs. Her earlier career included several corporate affairs, communications and marketing roles at firms including Macquarie Group, IAG and Honner Media.
“…you need to acknowledge that you’re not going to please everyone … Addressing inequality requires people to confront their own privilege and that’s really hard for most. People will get defensive. But we have to be brave, evidence based and non-judgemental…”
Yolanda, please can you tell us about your career to date and what first got you interested in working in the gender equality space?
My background has been in corporate and public affairs for mostly financial services companies. In these roles I developed strategies that were focused on not just what companies said to achieve their reputational goals but also what they needed to do differently to achieve business outcomes. Then about three years ago I joined the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency as the head of strategy and engagement where I was responsible for increasing the WGEA’s reach and influence though public campaigns, strategic partnerships, stakeholder engagement and education programmes.
My interest in gender equality was honed during my time as a director of the YWCA Australia (2008-2010). YWCA Australia [a non-profit organisation] is a passionate advocate for women’s issues and young women’s leadership, and my time on the board with a group of passionate, smart feminists opened my eyes to the structural and cultural barriers women face at work, in society and at home. This social injustice and economic lunacy continues to motivate me today.
Congratulations on your new role at Mercer. What are your immediate priorities in the role?
My immediate priority is to develop and promote a consulting model that leverages Mercer’s extraordinary capabilities across the globe to deliver practical solutions to clients aimed at building high performing, diverse and inclusive teams. This starts with understanding critical talent data, including how diverse segments are coming into, being promoted and are exiting the organisation, then overlying these numbers with more nuanced insights about the lived experience of employees.
Understanding the policies, processes, and leadership and management practices that influence talent is also critical and combined they provide the insights that help drive the curiosity, commitment and capability to achieve diverse and inclusive workplaces. Wrapping it all up in a strategy with clearly defined interventions that leaders and managers own and preserve with is key.
Please can you briefly explain about the reporting requirements around gender in the workplace in Australia?
All non-public sector employers with 100 or more employees report their gender performance to WGEA every year across six standardised indicators that are known enablers of positive gender equality outcomes. These indicators including gender composition of the workforce and board, equal pay, support for carers (including flexibility), employee consultation, sex-based harassment and support for employees experiencing domestic violence.
It’s coming up to International Women’s Day. What will you and Mercer do to celebrate this?
I will be at an event run by the UN Global Compact in the morning at the Australian Stock Exchange ringing the bell for gender equality, then at a client event at lunch speaking on a panel. Finally I’ll be at an internal event in the afternoon with our CEO speaking about Mercer’s When Women Thrive research and Mercer’s efforts to improve opportunities for women to rise to leadership levels.
We loved the tongue-in-cheek ‘Daughter Water’ campaign you ran at the WGEA, which was very well received, but some global companies have recently suffered from negative PR as campaigns to encourage more girls into STEM subjects for example, have backfired. How do you strike a balance between being creativity and taking a risk, and going too far?
First I think you need to acknowledge that you’re not going to please everyone – we certainly didn’t with Daughter Water. Addressing inequality requires people to confront their own privilege and that’s really hard for most. People will get defensive. But we have to be brave, evidence based and non-judgemental.
Building coalitions of support to help communicate your message is also very powerful and was certainly critical for Daughter Water. Today, 93 CEOs have signed up as Pay Equity Ambassadors and their voice is vital for building business understanding of how pay gaps occur and what needs to be done to address gender bias.
Last time we spoke to you one of your priorities was to reposition flexibility in the workplace as something that was for men as well as women. How is this going in Australia?
Like all initiatives aimed at addressing social change … slowly! But thankfully progress is being made. Mercer’s When Women Thrive research shows that Australian businesses are doing better than average on engaging men on gender equality more broadly. I think making flexible working a driver of productivity and employee engagement for everyone – not just working mums – is key to engaging men in this debate.
How do we encourage employers to offer flexibility as the rule rather than the exception where ever possible for employees?
Employers need to know what’s at stake for their organisation and so a company-specific business case is critical. Globally research shows that flex can improve engagement and productivity, reduce absenteeism and help employers attract and keep talent. Employers need to look at their own numbers to see what it’s costing them by not taking a strategic approach to flex.
What is coming up next for you and Mercer?
The focus is on working with clients to create workplaces where everyone has equal opportunity to thrive regardless of their gender, age, cultural background or sexual orientation. That should keep me busy for a while!