Why Women Won’t Fake it in the Workplace.

Why is gender diversity and female participation on Australian boards and at senior leadership levels so rare?  Why, after  my experience of 23 years in Executive Search, has the gender landscape across senior management not expanded?

The Drinks Bulletin published Founder/CEO Simone Allan’s thoughts earlier this week. The article can also be viewed here.

Australian women have equaled or surpassed their male counterparts in upper secondary and tertiary education attainment, yet this still isn’t reflected in women leadership participation in the business community.

Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13 percent are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top, C-level jobs, board seats – tops out at only 15- 16 percent. The numbers have not moved since 2002 and are going in the wrong direction. Even in the  not for profit world, a world we often associate as being led by women , women account for only 20 percent.

The national gender pay gap is currently 18.2% and has hovered between 15% and 18% for the past two decades.  This gender pay gap is influenced by a number of interrelated work, family and societal factors, including stereotypes about the work women and men ‘should’ do, and the way women and men ‘should’ engage in the workforce. Other factors that contribute to the gender pay gap include:

  • Women and men working in different industries (industrial segregation) and different jobs (occupational segregation).
  • Historically, female-dominated industries and jobs have attracted lower wages than male- dominated industries and jobs, a lack of women in senior positions, and a lack of part-time or flexible senior roles.
  • Unpaid carer work -women are more likely than men to take on this challenge.
  • Actual years in the workplace ( big hours).
  • Discrimination, both direct and indirect.

I am one of the 14% of women who stayed in the workplace in Australia throughout the childbearing years. I have two teenage sons. I run an Executive Search Firm for 19 years and I am the most experienced  Female Exec Search Consultant in Sydney.  I call myself a social observer, with a degree in Psychology/ HR and a commitment to Mental Health Board work. I have interviewed over 22 000 Executives – both genders . I think the reasons for a lack of gender diversity are numerous and many reasons are  “elephants in the room”.

8 Key reasons why women won’t get want they want in the workplace – gender diversity and leadership opportunities:

  1. The perceived look that you need to “ look like you work hard by being at the office”: discriminating against women working remotely and not publicly demonstrating deliverables.
  2. Unconscious biases: “ jobs for the boys” & “old school ties”. This is may be due to single sex high schools that do not help men and women to  learn how to interact & collaborate together in the workplace.
  3. The “nuclear family nuked generational childcare support”: rarely is there care for your children by older family generations – by people who are related and love them. This places pressure on parenting and mothers choosing to stay home and not drive a career.
  4. Women say no and Men say yes! In my 23 years of Executive Search experience I see a difference in genders when people are “headhunted”.  Women always point out why they can’t do the job and what they lack in skills & experience and men will tell you what they can do -women say no and men say yes! This is well written about by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook who talks about why women don’t make it to the top. Women systematically underestimate their own abilities.
  5. Pregnant women are not predictable: so much is ahead and no one can be assured of what is ahead – only the universe holds the future and this does not help future proofing an organisation.
  6. Man the Hunter and Women are the Gatherers: Our long history of  heritage that prefers women  to push the shopping trolley and nest with our young? I like the saying that you never know the torment of flying the coup, if you have never built a nest!
  7. “Men have egos and Women have pride”: This begs the question on whether that big job/promotion appeals more to a man than to a woman.Do women seek pride in delivering good work – doing a good job, ignoring the politics?
  8. The power of the maternal gene is more ominous than the corporate ladder climbing gene. I know personally how many hours I have lay in bed tormented about how my kids are tracking at school, and if they feel supported and nurtured. I don’t know if these tormenting thoughts are experienced by a man? I open this question up to you fathers to share what keeps you awake at night. Is it a difficult staff member or is it that your child needs to improve at school?

At the Women in Drinks lunch event recently, with Mia Freedman, a statistic was quoted that equality in the workplace will not reach ideal levels until 2133! Will another 120 years see changes to these 8 challenges? I am hopeful, as so many of these listed  challenges are purely systemic.  At least the top 4 challenges can be worked upon.  At the same time,  I wonder whether the basic instincts of a mother and her desires to care for her nest will remain and hence the challenge of maximizing opportunities for women in the workplace will continue.

Women won’t fake it in the workplace!