Recently, Aspiring Women held a forum to discuss the issues related to Women & Leadership: Investigating the possibilities. The questions were raised as to why many young women today, who appear to have limitless opportunities yet still:
- Lack self confidence
- Feel bad about themselves
- Don’t like their bodies
- Are unable to celebrate their achievements
- Doubt their own abilities
- Undersell themselves
- Last year research from the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency showed that women only represent 10.7% of executive managers in Australia’s top 200 companies.
The percentage of women at executive level in ASX200 has declined since 2006.
Since 2006, the number of ASX200 companies with no women on the board, has increased, from 39.5% to 45.5%. So could it be that women are dropping out or being forced out?
When you start to look at some of the other statistics for working women, the news is all bad with women still being paid less than their male counterparts, and women bearing the brunt of the responsibility for child care, and household chores. It makes one wonder what happened to the bra burning feminists of the ‘60’s, who were all for equality in the form of equal pay and conditions. But, where did they go? Did they look in the mirror, see their boobs around their navels, and just go out to buy a new bra? The dream of equality in the workforce is still just that…. A dream!
For some reason, women are not reaching the highest levels of ‘leadership’ in significant numbers.
And yet more of them are gaining university level qualifications. We know that women make excellent leaders with studies showing that companies with the best record of promoting women are more profitable, and Boards with women having better governance. As we move forward, how can we make sense of the facts and figures?
One of the possible explanations is that there is discrimination in selection of leaders. There is plenty of evidence for this discrimination – the old boys clubs are alive and well. Not only is there direct discrimination in selection, but also in terms of unequal career pathways (women and child-rearing etc.) as well as unequal career development opportunities. Thus, women haven’t got the presence in the workplace for promotional opportunities to be considered equally, and so, are indirectly discriminated against.
Another possible explanation is that women who do make it to the top ‘drop out’, and indeed, the EOWA data support this, with the number of companies with no women on their Board actually increasing. Added to this, unfortunately there is some evidence that women are more likely to be given leadership roles that are precarious or risky, and are therefore more likely to fail, referred to as the glass cliff.
It could also be that women want to lead, but deliberately don’t put their hand up – through fear; fear of consequences, and fear of not being good enough.
Finally, the other explanation could be that women just don’t want the job; rather opting out of the highest level of the corporate ladder. In light of the evidence, this seems plausible, given that the EOWA figures show numbers of women declining at board and CEO level. When we consider the demands on women in terms of child care and domestic duties, women just don’t want another load of responsibilities – they’re so flat out holding everyone else’s lives together that they don’t aspire to a career at the highest level. The pressures of being a leader at the highest level is perceived as stressful, and requiring long working hours, etc, so women just say… NO that’s not what I want for my life. It appears that women are putting a greater significance on work/life balance.
But still, the inequality continues…. men in high places making decisions that affect all of us, and women having little or no part in the decision making.
So how do we open up the pathways so that women have equal opportunity to compete for high level leadership positions?
As women, we have to realize that there is only one person in the world that we have the power to change – and that is ourselves. The road to equality starts with each and every individual women, and it is up to us to recognize the social issues involved in the leadership debate.
To start with, both men and women have difficulty differentiating between feminism and femininity. Women themselves have a problem accepting female leaders who exhibit male characteristics. There appears to be a stigma attached to women who act tough and forceful. When women are referred to as ‘having balls’, this masculinises the role of leader and perpetuates the idea that good leader = male.
This sort of language has to be recognized and eliminated. We have to become more aware of the sexist terms we use when referring to leaders, and stop doing it!
Generally, we do not treat our female leaders with the respect they deserve. And this could, in part be because, we need to be more accepting of the diversity of individual leaders. There is a gender bias perpetuated by the media against females in power. We see it time and again in the media, news items that relate to females in power and their love life, or their fashion sense, where such topics are totally insignificant when it comes to male leaders.
Women also have to learn to respect women in leadership roles. We need also to learn from them, respect and admire them. Don’t criticize them for exhibiting male characterists. Especially if they are doing a good job! Men are especially good at this type of mentoring and relationship building where they build strategic alliances which benefit their business network. Here’s a tip for the girls, when you ask to see the manager – start expecting to see a women. Change the way you think about leaders and managers. Good leadership does not necessarily equal male.
Women also need to accept that women and men communicate differently, but that it’s OK to borrow a few male techniques such as networking and mentoring. As already mentioned, men tend to network with a view to building alliances, with men who can help them. For men, business relationships are very much about ‘trust’. Women also need to be able to build strategic networks and align with advocates. And sometimes this means being able to ask for what you need. Women tend to give away their favours too easily. Once we’ve given a favour for someone, now and again, we need to call in those favours for our own benefit.
The other male technique that we need to borrow, is the skill of negotiating. Women, tend not to ask for what they want, and if they do, they are not able to negotiate how they can get it. Sometimes, it just seems that we end up nagging, or demanding. If we are to be taken seriously in negotiating, we need to get serious about how we’re communicating in business and about our business. Who are we being in the office environment, the skilled, knowledgeable communicator, or everybody’s friend and confidente.
The ability to negotiate with others to extend to within ourselves. Women need to be able to ask themselves what we want, and how they are going to get it. Through this internal dialogue of negotiation, hopefully will come the realization that we can’t do it all, and that perhaps we may have to ask for help and/or to delegate some tasks to someone else. We do try to do everything, but sometimes, its OK to ask for help. Now there’s an idea.
Women need to ask themselves:
- What do I want?
- What do I need to do to get what I want?
- Who can help me?
As women, let’s all individually start a movement towards equality, with our bra’s on.