GBCA’s Green Star Champions and the opportunity for better gender diversity 

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Never has progress towards safe, inclusive workplaces for women and other minorities felt slower than in the last few weeks of hearing truly horrific allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and bullying at Parliament House.

Women and their supporters want justice and change and are increasingly attuned to these issues in their own organisations and industries, and they are also increasingly willing to voice these concerns.

It’s in this context that The Fifth Estate was contacted anonymously about the lack of diversity, namely gender diversity, in the Green Building Council of Australia’s 2021 Green Star Champions announced at their Transform event last week.

For this award, six of the 28 recipients were women. However, the judging panel of a separate award, the Future Green Leader of the Year Award, did select three female finalists out of four, with women both the winner and runner up of this award.

When contacted by The Fifth Estate , the GBCA said that the gender skew in the Green Star Champions awards was a result of its criteria intended to recognise long term partners of the Green Star rating tool.

In particular, it’s intended to reward long term members of its advisory committees and expert reference panels that help keep the environmental rating tool up-to-date and fit-for-purpose.

Historically, these committees had a gender balance of 80 per cent men and 20 per cent women. Davina Rooney, chief executive of GBCA, told The Fifth Estate that this 80-20 split reflected the make-up of the property and construction industry at the time, with sustainability still an emerging facet of these industries back then.

She herself was one of the 20 per cent of female engineers in her cohort at Sydney University in the 90s, she said.

The organisation has since acknowledged this diversity issue and worked to rectify it, installing a diversity policy around five years ago that helped increase female representation on the committees to 41 per cent.

“This figure is closer to reflecting the diversity of those who will inhabit the built environment of the future, and it’s a figure we want to maintain or even improve,” Ms Rooney said

As such, the organisation sees more females appearing in the lists of Green Star Champions of the future to reflect the growing proportions of women on its committees and working groups.

However, Ms Rooney recognises that there’s a lot more to be done on this score.

“We are so proud of the work we have been able to achieve with our Green Star Champions and we look forward to working with our Future Green Leader of the Year, Kate Rowan, but we need your help to build future champions by nominating to be on one of our Green Star Advisory Groups or Expert Reference Panels,” she said, addressing her members.

“Nominations for our committees close on March 31 and right now 75 per cent of those who have nominated are male.

“Now is the time for the industry to lean in and co-create the future – I call on all the brilliant women in our industry to come forward, nominate yourself and help us build an industry we are all proud to be a part of.”

Achieving diversity is about more than just targets

The challenges of achieving diversity for awards, committees and in the workplace in general are clearly bigger than any one organisation.

Talent Nation managing director Richard Evans , an experienced recruiter of sustainability roles, says that transforming industries that traditionally lack diversity tends to be “painfully slow”.

“It does take time.”

He said that companies are now showing intent to improve the diversity of their workforces but often haven’t altered their hiring processes to align with these policies or targets.

“We’re seeing some really, really positive signs, but it does require a shift.”

He gave the example of recruiting candidates based on experience rather than potential as one barrier to recruiting a diverse workplace.

That’s because hiring criteria weighted towards experience rewards candidates from privileged backgrounds who tend to have had more opportunities to glean that experience.

Evans said that this partly hinges on a hiring manager taking a risk on a candidate’s potential, which is something that’s typically much harder to measure compared to someone’s prior experience.

Women dominate sustainability roles in terms of pay

Women have actually been found to buck the pay-gap trend for sustainability and environmental roles, with a 2019 Talent Nation report canvassing renumeration of sustainability and environmental roles finding women tended to outperform men in salary terms.

The survey found that for the very top sustainability jobs, the average salary for women was $316,003 and $308,887 for men.

The recruitment firm is currently preparing a 2021 update to this 2019 report.

This article was originally featured on The Fifth Estate.

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