I believe gender equality in the workforce is about more than ticking a quota. The question I think we should be asking is ‘why aren’t there as many outstanding women ready and wanting to take that next step into management and senior positions?’ This is where we should be challenging the status quo.
I can honestly say, after almost 20 years in the corporate world, I don’t believe that I have ever missed out or been overlooked for anything because I was a woman. Now I am not naive, I know many women that haven’t been as lucky and have seen some very unfairly treated. I have been in situations where I have been treated differently being a women, especially given I’ve worked in Insurance for 18 years, but I’ve never let this impact my success or ability to do my job. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I actually think I’ve had more opportunities in my career because I am a women than the situations where I have been hindered. I’ve been on some amazing courses restricted to women, conferences, networking events and mentor groups. I know these have been needed to change embedded mindsets. I do believe, however, that we need to be very careful not to go to the other extreme where we start seeing capable and deserving men missing out on opportunities because they have been born male in this generation.
Seeing corporations and companies now proudly displaying their gender quota as they move closer to 50% makes me very happy. It is great to see such strong and inspirational women there amongst the equally strong and inspirational men. The industry magazines are starting to have women on their front covers. Boards and panels have both genders represented giving such a well-rounded wealth of knowledge. It really is fantastic! I can’t wait to see this extend to cultural diversity as well.
So why are there less women applying for these senior roles? It is a part of nature that women are the child bearers and carrying a child creates a very unique bond and something often referred to as ‘mothers guilt’ when away from your child. For many, there is the challenge of balancing your priorities and commitments between work and home. The current workforce has come a long way with flexible hours and working from home but is still designed on a clock watching, standard hours of work that your pay is based on. This means when you can’t schedule when your kids get sick, win an award at school or when a conference coincides with their grand final, women may prefer to keep things simple and not climb the corporate ladder until the kids are older. Of course, by the time the kids are older, the opportunity may have passed.
According to the Financial Review, women today own more than one third of Australia’s small businesses. They are opting to own their business letting them decide when and for how long you work to get the job done. Flexibility is huge today with smart devices and much of the work done online. It aligns to motherhood so much more than a set 9-5 job. All of those school and children commitments can be worked around.
Now I don’t have the magic answer to this. Nobody seems to at this point but what if the corporate world approached these senior positions slightly different? What if they split 2 roles into 3 and focused them more on specific skills/portfolio type roles? Separate the people management and the technical management? Separate the statistical and strategic delivery? These senior positions have a history of being huge roles, with long hours, plenty of travel, lots of out of hours networking and priority commitment over life outside of work. Do they really need to be? Could we split the salary and split the size of the role? Make them more attractive to more people. Set specific deliverables and if you can deliver success in 20 hours per week than fantastic, if it takes you 40 other weeks then so be it.
I’m all for focusing more on breaking the mould of the outdated ‘senior leader’ expectations than counting a quota. If you break the mould and make the roles more attractive and true work life balance then you may find more talented women will naturally be knocking on your door along with the men. The thought then won’t even cross your mind what gender the candidates are or what your quota looks like. Gender will be a thing of the past. You would get your balance naturally and ensure you are hiring the best person for the job not the gender required.
The imbalance of women in the corporate world is not the only concern although it is a great place to start. Gender imbalance is across many industries. Let’s be sure we fix the underlying problems rather than band-aid it with a quota approach.