As I take a look across the leadership diversity in my company, I am one of only a handful of women sitting in the top 3 layers of management. Like most blokey businesses, we have a large number of men, normally of Anglo Saxon appearance. If I’m talking diversity, we also only have a small proportion of people who are from other minority groups, such as different racial backgrounds etc. Something to work on if we want to continue to be relevant as a company in the Asian Pacific!
However, lets talk about that issue of women and leadership for a moment. I know this gets talked about a lot, but I still hear lots of platitudes and myths circulating about why women struggle to make it to the “C-suite” and what businesses can do to get them there. Here is some data which may help to shed more light on the topic.
- Women make up 51% of the population yet the statistics tell us that of ASX200 companies in Australia, women only hold 12.3% of board director positions (EOWA 2012);
- Women hold only 4.1% of the line manager roles that are considered to be “pipeline positions” to key executive appointments including that of Chief Executive Officer (EOWA 2010);
- Women’s income is also 24% less than that of men in equivalent roles (ABS 2010) and this widens the higher in the organisation you go (EOWA 2010). A 2009 KPMG report for the Diversity Council of Australia found that a large component of the wage gap could be attributed to sex discrimination. (This is despite women being more likely than their male counterparts to have post graduate qualifications);
- According to Goldman Sachs, narrowing the gap between male and female employment participation rates would boost GDP by 11% (Australia is ranked 50th in the world internationally in regard to women’s labour force participation relative to men’s); If the gender productivity gap was minimised (eg by increasing the number of women in leadership roles), the level of economic activity in Australia could be boosted by 20% (www.hreoc.gov.au);
- Research says that women have a narrower range of behaviours available to them and they need to navigate them carefully. They need to present themselves as BOTH a credible manager AND sufficiently feminine not to challenge societal assumptions about gender (Sealy and Singh, 2010);
- Women are over mentored and under sponsored (Singh et al 2003);
- Both men and women have stereotypes about managers as male, “think manager, think male” (Shein, 2001). The prevailing image of the promotable person is one who is rational, competitive, strong, decisive, self-confident and independent (Fagenson, 1990), which is biased toward male stereotyping.
In a 2007 article in the Harvard Business Review, researchers described a woman’s progress to the top using the metaphor of the career labyrinth. Passage through the labyrinth is possible, but it requires persistence, awareness of one’s progress, and a careful analysis of the puzzles that lie ahead. A woman’s progress may be stalled by prejudices against women, issues of leadership style and authenticity, and stereotypes about family responsibilities. (Eagly, Alice H.; Carli, Linda L.. Harvard Business Review, Sep2007, Vol. 85 Issue 9, p63-71). The career labyrinth is a metaphor I can identify with based on my own experiences.
The business case for being able to access up to 50% of the possible employment market, and to maximise the full potential of the people who are working for you, is compelling. So, if you are really serious about improving your gender equity stats, then here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Bring gender equity to the Executive table and ensure someone (preferably a male) is Executive sponsor. Support this with an annual gender equity plan (with measures) and an annual gender equity pay analysis;
- Acquaint yourself with the resources and case studies available at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency http://www.wgea.gov.au/;
- Train your management team in how to make objective selection, promotion and pay decisions; and
- Stop stereotyping “flexible work practices” as a solution for women. Flexible work practices need to be available to both men and women such that each family can come up with the solutions that best suit them as a unit.
Its time to stop talking about this issue and for your business – and mine – to start acting. More importantly, lets each ensure that talk and action leads to results.
Thanks to Dr Linley Lord, Maureen Bickley Centre for Women in Leadership, Curtin Graduate School of Business for providing assistance with the research contained in this blog.