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Australian Financial Review : October 17th 2006
FBA 060 The Australian Financial Review Tuesday 17 October 2006 www.afr.com 60Work Space Do we need to do more for women? Affirmative Corporate woman Catherine Fox '' Promoting a woman just because of her gender is offensive to most high achievers.'' T he chief executive of ANZ Banking Group, John McFarlane, often speaks publicly about the measures he has introduced to help promote women through the bank's hierarchy. Some years ago he decreed that every short list for management and executive jobs at the bank must include at least one woman candidate and a woman on the interviewing panel. ANZ estimates that women make up 68 per cent of these appointments. Almost invariably, McFarlane's comments are greeted with nods of approval from audiences of professionals and his credentials in this area are often held up as a model for other chief executives. Along with several other initiatives, the ANZ move to include women on executive short lists is a pretty good example of what was once called affirmative action. It's a policy that deliberately targets and includes a minority or discriminated group in an effort to address inequity. It is also known as positive discrimination. Yet these formal terms are enough to give many corporate executives the heebie-jeebies. In the business world, affirmative action is often stigmatised as a highly inflexible way of addressing gender discrimination, conjuring up the dreaded idea of using quotas to force more women through the glass ceiling and into senior jobs. These days, affirmative action is seen as a dated and pretty bad idea that really shouldn't be needed. The term also tends to remind many of the moves in the United States to address racial discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s. Affirmative action was introduced in the US in 1965 by Lyndon Johnson because the practical effects of discrimination were continuing despite civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. By the late 1970s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions, according to website Infoplease. ''Reverse discrimination became an issue. 'Preferential treatment' and 'quotas' became expressions of contempt.'' Ain't that the truth. But given the lack of progress for women in business, is there a risk the aversion to affirmative action could end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater? It's true women are among the most vocal critics of quota systems, particularly in senior ranks. The idea that a woman has been promoted just because of her gender is deeply offensive to most high achievers. A couple of weeks ago at a Women's Forum in France, one of that country's top business women, Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive of French nuclear energy company Areva, branded quotas ''humiliating''. Alternatives she suggested were close monitoring of the balance of recruitment and a policy of promoting the woman if candidates of both genders were equally competent. That sounds like another version of affirmative action, too. Perhaps it's time the broader concepts behind the idea were dusted off, examined and rehabilitated for the new millennium. As McFarlane has found, coming up with some pragmatic methods of removing gender discrimination in a modern business can be best addressed by using these means. Quotas were a lever to be used temporarily in the US until there was equality for minorities in employment and education. There were negative side effects that meant it didn't always work that way and some critics believe it may have even hampered progress. But maybe the principles of affirmative action have a place in reminding those running organisations to make an effort in consistently casting a wider net in recruiting and promoting. Given the dire results in all the recent studies monitoring women's progress into senior management and board roles, it seems a circuit breaker is again required. After all, it's now clear the passage of time and women's educational levels ± plus a whole range of other reasons ± are not changing the current stalemate. firstname.lastname@example.org Edited by Fiona Smith Mental fitness regime At communications giant BT, globally, about 500 people are on sick leave every day with psychiatric problems and so the company decided to do something about the mental wellbeing of its staff. The company has launched a campaign, called Work Fit -- Positive Mentality, to tackle problems such as anxiety, depression and stress. BT has worked with its trade unions to create the campaign for its 104,000 employees and encourages staff to adopt small changes in lifestyle and use techniques to become more resilient. Employees will be given information on how regular exercise, healthy eating, relaxation techniques and even the support of friends and family can help to ward off depression, stress and anxiety. It will also educate staff to help reduce the stigma of mental illness and promote the range of support services that the company provides. Green credentials Efforts by Australian companies to improve their ''green'' credentials -- which is becoming a crucial factor in recruiting generation Y -- have been backed by a British survey of office workers. According to the British Council of Offices, 52 per cent of employees say their employers' environmental credentials are important. However, those environmentally-aware employees also admit they could do more themselves to conserve energy at work. Half of the workers surveyed said the most important thing they could do to conserve energy was to switch off lights and monitors when not in use. Recycling was well accepted: 80 per cent have access to recycling facilities. Not so low wages The cost advantage of taking business to low-wage countries such as China or India is often not the bargain it seems, when wages are adjusted for low productivity, according to a report released this month by The Conference Board. ''Productivity gains from new technology and innovation have to keep pace with often fast- rising wages of skilled and semi- skilled workers, or the 'cost advantage' begins to erode,'' says Bart van Ark, director of The Conference Board international economic research program and co- author of the report. How to win in the naming game Housing company head Bob Day works at remembering names. Photo: DAVID MARIUZ Being able to put a name to a face can open doors, and it's a skill that can be cultivated, writes Fiona Smith. MEMORIES 1 Make an association with the name. Do you know anyone else with the name? Red-hair Rebecca? 2 Register the face. Take a mental snapshot, turn away, recall the face with the name next to it. 3 Look at the detail that interests you. What can you tell about their clothes, posture, face or interests? 4 Review periodically to make the memory long term. The chief executive of Australian Home has a talent for remembering names. He can recall the names, faces and contributions of the 300 people who work for his company ± as well as hundreds of telephone numbers. What is more, most people would have little trouble remembering his name. Bob Day. At six letters, one of the shortest in the phone book. ''It is a great advantage if you can remember people's names. If it doesn't come naturally, then you should practise,'' he says. Day, 54, says he has not studied any memory techniques, but started to make an effort when he saw how much other people enjoyed it when he was able to recall their names. ''I went to Canberra yesterday and I went to see a minister and I remembered the name of the recep- tionist. When I asked her if there was a chance of seeing the minister, I could tell, because I had remem- bered her name, that she was making an extra effort to get me in there,'' he says. Day owns a company that builds about 1000 homes a year around the country. ''People are surprised when somebody they feel is important remembers their name, they love hearing their name. ''If you can't remember their name, then people know that you are not interested in them.'' He says that when he is intro- duced to someone, he tries to use their name a couple of times in the immediate conversation to lodge it in his memory bank. He also tries to make a visual association, making a mental note that they look like someone else ± an actor, perhaps. Since the mobile phone revol- ution, Day's ability to remember phone numbers is probably not that useful, but he still enjoys the con- venience of not having to look them up in a directory. He says he thinks his ability to remember is associated with pleasure ± he enjoys meeting peo- ple and remembers the phone num- bers of people and places he likes. Charles Noble, vice-president of integrated technology delivery at IBM, is a legend in the IT world for his recall of names. When he meets people, he makes a word association with their names. Playing golf with a new group, it might be Peter the physio, or long socks Steve, he says. He will repeat the association as he watches them play and, after about five minutes, he has filed away those names ± and the context in which he met them. When Noble, 48, is presenting to a meeting, he tries to get there a few minutes early so he can greet people one-by-one and has time to register them mentally. Then, as he begins his presen- tation, he sketches a diagram of who is sitting where at the table. ''People would be able to tell that I was doing something, but it is done in the first two minutes, and I don't try to hide it,'' he says. Noble, who has responsibility for around 3000 people says that as he has risen through the ranks, it has become more important to properly acknowledge those who work for him. ''I think it makes a really positive difference for people to feel that someone they have dealt with, who is more senior, knows them person- ally,'' he says. ''It is worth the effort.'' Director of training company Full Potential, Kevin Argus, is fasci- nated by how impressed people are when someone can remember names beyond the norm. ''I often hear people talk enthusi- astically about someone they per- ceive is dynamic because on the first day of being on the job, they walk in and refer to everybody by name. ''They could have had a data base ± images and names and what their role in the organisation is ± and then they have won them over.'' Argus, who will be talking about remembering names at the CPA Congress in Melbourne on October 20, says people who are concentrat- ing on remembering names usually appear focused and confident to those around them. ''You look like you are giving your full attention to somebody.'' Argus says his first step is to make a quick association with the name when he first meets them. Perhaps associate them with someone else with the same name. Then he takes a mental snapshot of their face and, when he turns away, recalls it with a mental image of the name beside the face. Because he is interested in psy- chology, he then takes the time to observe what their body language or posture tells about them. Others may look at the details of their clothes, or shared interests. Their recall of names and num- bers and sporting feats are impress- ive, but both Day and Noble can be forgetful when it comes to everyday tasks. Day deals with this by carrying a notebook with him everywhere and making lots of lists. Noble, who has an encyclopedic recall of sporting results, cops some flak at home for forgetting to pick up his daughter at 4.30pm on Tuesday. For feedback on Work Space, email editor Fiona Smith at email@example.com