I recently heard of a male CEO approaching his female Director of Communications about their March publication to members. He wanted her to move the ‘International Women’s Day’ feature to the back of the magazine and profile some men in the front.
Tone-deaf at best. Bias or sour grapes at worst.
Fortunately for the business, his switched-on communications director was able to remind him of the unfortunate optics of such a move in today’s political climate.
This reminded me of research I sighted a few years ago that found that when there had been an increase in women in an industry sector where the numbers of women were low, the incumbent men felt like they were being overtaken and missing out, despite the gender balance in the workplace falling far below parity.
We also know from research that some men feel threatened by highly-qualified women changing the status quo, particularly in leadership positions, and as a result of these feelings of ‘we have enough women’ there is constant resistance to change.
In recent months in my work with mentoring executive women, I have heard of them being told to be careful about organising women in leadership programs within organisations, as it may cause their male colleagues to feel like they are missing out on opportunity.
What is most disappointing about the research and feedback is that despite having years of discussion and education in the community around the need to find parity between men and women in our workplace, that we continue to find ongoing issues that hold women back from success.
That is not to say that there are not green sprouts of a change in attitude out there. As a recent discussion with a newly appointed male CEO reminding me that there are some who get it when he told me of a conversation with his COO around permission for women to attend ‘International Women Day’ events, setting the rule that “no permission should be needed” until the business reached 50/50 parity of men to women.
This parity should be a driving goal for business leaders as research has proven time and time again that organisations perform far more effectively with a diverse workforce, with the closer you are able to get to 50-50 parity the better the result for your business.
Yet, in late 2020 McKinsey released their annual Women in the Workplace report in collaboration with Leanin.org and it’s clear that there is still a long way to go before we get anywhere near parity. The report found that entry level roles were the only place in an organisation where parity is anywhere near close, with the gap widening the closer we get to the top with C-suite female representation topping out at 21%.
These numbers should be concerning for all and it shows that women continue to face the ‘glass ceiling’ and that businesses are also facing a drain of top talent as women, frustrated at their inability to progress their careers, leave these organisations.
The issue women face in the workplace are mirrored in our political sphere, one still dominated by men, with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison the latest to exhibit a tone-deaf attitude when it comes to gender equity.
His recent public comments of needing to ‘take advice from his wife’ with the need to consider what he would do if his daughters found themselves in a similar situation as Brittany Higgins, a junior government staffer who has alleged a serious assault by a fellow staffer in the office of the Minister for Defence. Confirming that ‘we have a long way to go’ when we talk about equal treatment of women in the workplace.
As International Women’s Day approaches, a day in which we look to celebrate the achievements of women across the world, there are no words that describes the devastation women feel in Australia at having to hear our Prime Minister being forced daily to defend the treatment of women by members of his government.
All this leaves CEO’s and business leaders with an opportunity to step up and be agents for positive change by taking the action needed to drive real change within their organisations.
- Start with building a culture that encourages and focuses on both diversity and inclusion. You need diverse perspectives, and you want those who bring the diverse perspectives to feel as though their opinions are valued and considered.
- Set robust inclusion and diversity targets and strategies for your organisation. Ensure that you have onboarded senior management, so they are working as hard as you to meet these targets
- Surround yourself with people who are not afraid to challenge the blind spots that exist in your business, remembering that it is from the toughest and honest conversations that you will see real change implemented
- Create systems, processes and policies that inside your organisation that are regularly reviewed and tracked to help you meet your targets
In late 2020 Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo mockingly said “I am happy to announce we have been fined,” in response to being told she had broken the law by naming too many women to senior posts. Her mocking response driven by the fact that despite ‘breaking the law’ and of appointing more women than men, that the overall gender parity still had not yet been reached.
I remain onside with Ms Hidalgo. Because being willing to take on the establishment and push for equality is not only good for women, when we do it inside our organisations, it is good for business as well.