Echoing the theme for International Women's Day 2023, #EmbraceEquity, Asuria leads the conversation by discussing what it truly means to embrace equity within its own sphere of influence in the employment sector.
At Asuria, its mentors and employment experts embrace equity every day, throughout all the programs it delivers, including Workforce Australia Services, Transition to Work, Employability Skills Training, Career Transition Assistance and Self-Employment Assistance. In particular, Support Mentors of the ParentsNext program, assist and empower women, who make up 95% of the program participants, by providing an inclusive environment for them to engage with work or further education.
ParentsNext is an Australian Government initiative to help parents and carers who receive Parenting Payment to plan and prepare for work by the time their youngest child starts school. Many women in the program have been out of the workforce for extended periods.
Mara Russo, National Manager for ParentsNext at Asuria, supports many parents to develop skills and prepare them to enter the labour market. Three out of four of this program's participants are single parents.
"They've had to give up their careers to take on the entire responsibility of raising children when there aren't affordable childcare options in place or family support system available to them," Russo explains.
Women in the workforce is a priority
According to Women's Work: The Impact of the Crisis on Australian Women, 2021 by Grattan Institute, the COVID recession hit women much harder than men and will compound women's lifetime economic disadvantage. They lost more jobs than men – almost 8% at the peak of the crisis, compared to 4% for men. They shouldered more of the increase in unpaid work – including supervising children learning remotely – taking on an extra hour each day more than men, on top of their existing heavier load, and they were less likely to get government support, and this is excluding short-term casuals, who in the hardest-hit industries are mostly women.
In contrast, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, "the number of women jobseekers in NSW is at the lowest level in more than two decades as the female unemployment rate in the state plumbs historic lows. Last month 59,600 women in NSW were seeking work, down from over 85,000 a year earlier, Bureau of Statistics figures show."
This is probably evidence of the Australian Government's commitment to boosting women's workforce participation by 2025, identifying it as an economic priority. More so, given that the Australian economy is predicted to grow by about $25 billion if we support more women into work.
Alicea Shaw, Executive Director of Employment Services at Asuria, and her team of mentors see the impact of women being absent from the workforce first-hand.
"It reduces their earning potential compared to their partners and impacts their retirement as they are not contributing to their superannuation fund during those years. With most of them impacted, being women, it's hard not to acknowledge the sacrifice so many of them have had to make," Shaw says.
"Beyond the individual level, when women participate in employment, families and communities benefit as women invest their earnings in healthcare and education, and move off income support.
"If more women are easily welcomed into the workforce, it could break the cycle of intergenerational unemployment and welfare dependency."
Individuals embrace equity
Shaw, who also oversees Asuria's Disability Employment Services, mentioned embracing equity starts with the individual.
"We treat all our participants as unique individuals and cater to each of their needs and requirements. Equality and equity do not mean the same thing. Personally, embracing equity means giving everyone what they need to be successful. In other words, while equality refers to treating each person the same, equity refers to meeting the unique needs of others without giving an unfair advantage" she added.
"Women should feel empowered to fulfil their potential and contribute to society without the fear that they have additional barriers to overcome in the workforce. They can be single women with children, disabled women, or simply women who are trying to provide for their family. We know that socioeconomic factors make a difference and being able to provide a better quality of life to their family can significantly impact their future."
One of Asuria's support mentors at Mount Barker, Sophie Pelgrim, who was a ParentsNext participant herself, had very low self-esteem and a limited view of her job options when she joined the program. She worked closely with her employment consultant, Georgina, to explore her study and career choices.
As Pelgrim's youngest child became older and with the assistance of her support mentor, Pelgrim returned to studies, which increased her confidence and self-worth even more. Asuria's ParentsNext was able to support her by paying for her clearances and purchasing a laptop for her to undertake her studies. Pelgrim was so inspired by how much she was supported through ParentsNext that she decided that her calling was to assist other parents in the same way she was supported through the program. When a support mentor vacancy came up at Asuria's Mount Barker office, Pelgrim applied for the position and was successful in obtaining the role. Now, she is thriving in a career she's passionate about, helping other parents on their road to work readiness every day.
Employers embrace equity
As a business that beats to an Enterprising Heart, Asuria realises that the negative impacts of a lack of gender diversity and inclusion can be all-encompassing, affecting everything from financial performance to customer insight to collaboration to innovation. Study after study reinforces the benefits of having greater women representation, women in leadership positions and on boards, and of instituting policies that support gender diversity and inclusion. From a diversity of thought standpoint, gender diversity supports cognitive diversity as well.
With a workforce of 65% women and a female CEO For Australia, Asuria has implemented key practices to help overcome barriers to women's leadership and begin to help leaders of all genders feel able to bring their full selves to work.
"At Asuria, we have rethought policies and practices-from flexible working hours, family-friendly policies and equal pay for equal work to attract and retain more women, and a more diverse workforce overall," says Nicole Grainger-Marsh, CEO, Asuria Australia.
"We focus on potential, not just experience- keeping in mind that technical expertise is only one of many qualities a leader needs to possess. Communication skills, curiosity, empathy and agility, for example, are also critical.
"Apart from giving voice to everyone, for them to be heard and be recognised, we also invest in developing an inclusive, learning-driven culture. If you want to hire, develop and keep a diverse workforce, you have to be willing to have tough conversations about meeting their needs and requirements.
"You also have to be committed to providing learning, mentorship and other opportunities to develop the women in your workforce and help them become inclusive, collaborative leaders themselves."
Asuria embraces equity and continuously works towards bringing more diversification onboard. While understanding that change doesn't occur overnight, Asuria believes that as more organisations and business leaders drive the narrative for gender equity and inclusion, it will promote women's agency, create a more effective work environment, and boost every organisation's success.
"You have to be committed to providing learning, mentorship and other opportunities to develop the women in your workforce and help them become inclusive, collaborative leaders themselves," Grainger-Marsh adds.