I recently went along to Leading Change, an event hosted by QUT Business School and UN Women, pondering the question: “How do we advance women’s opportunities and participation in leadership roles?” (A big shout out to Liz at Girl Gone Funny for letting me know about this event!)
Please find below a summary of my notes from the event.
Ms Caitlin Wilson on women in leadership in the public service
Ms Caitlin Wilson began the Leading Change event by sharing insights from her career on barriers and opportunities for women in leadership. She has previously worked for the Department of Defence, AusAID, the OECD, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Caitlin is now the Deputy Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations (New York) and Deputy Head of Mission.
Ms Wilson began by outlining some Australian Bureau of Statistics (August 2015) about the make up of women in the workforce. For example:
- Only 17% of CEOs were women. Of those women who were CEOs, The highest proportions of women CEOs were found in the Health Care ad Social Assistance (37%), Education and Training (36%), and Administrative and Supportive Services industries (21%). The lowest proportions of women CEOs were found in the Mining (3%) and Financial and Insurance Services (4%).
- 35% of Commonwealth justices and judges, 23% of State Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges, and 31% of Federal parliamentarians were women.
- In terms of career sectors, women made up 42% of the professional, scientific and technical services industry, 70% of the health care and social assistance industry, and 49% of the public administration and safety sector.
Ms Wilson then briefly spoke about indirect biases that impact on women’s ‘success’ in the workplace including unconscious bias, implications of the tax system, societal and cultural expectations, and gender bias.
She also outlined a number of methods that DFAT have undertaken to try and remove barriers and increase opportunities for women in the workplace. Then Secretary, Peter Varghese, launched the Women in Leadership initiative upon learning that women’s career progression in DFAT was not equal to that of men. Attempts to make a difference included: employing advocates, measuring and setting targets, training on unconscious bias, increasing flexible work conditions, having on-site childcare facilities, and implementing an ‘if not, why not’ approach to declining flexible work conditions.
Ms Wilson attributed her own success and career progression to a number of factors including: a good quality education from school through to university; having supportive policies in her workplaces; inclusive management approaches; strong personal and professional role models; and supportive peers and mentors.
She ended with a quote from Hilary Clinton: “There’s never been a better time in history to be born female.” Caitlin argued that although we still have a long way to go for gender equality, that this is true.
Panel discussion featuring Ms Caitlin Wilson, Alan Doherty, Dr Robyn Mayes, Kimberley Arden, and Janelle Weissman
A panel discussion was then held around barriers to success for women and ways that we can advance women in leadership in the workplace. Panel members included: Ms Caitlin Wilson (see above); Mr Alan Docherty, Chief Financial Officer, Commonwealth Bank Australia; Dr Robyn Mayes, Senior Research Fellow at QUT Business School; Kimberley Arden, Partner, Gadens; and Jangle Weissman (Moderator), Executive Director of UN Women National Committee Australia.
Some brief notes from the interesting panel discussion are outlined below.
- The panel members’ organisations are implementing a number of initiatives to address diversity in the workplace. Similar to Ms Wilson’s speech above, they spoke of having diversity measures and targets (e.g., the Commonwealth Bank is aiming for 40% of leadership positions to be held by women by 2020 – they started at 20% and have been increasing the target periodically), flexible work arrangements, staff surveys, and training.
- It is important to offer opportunities like flexible work hours to both men and women – and to try to reduce the stigma of men opting to work part time or contribute more to childcare and homelife. Mr Docherty quoted Annabel Crabb (from The Wife Drought) here with “women need wives, men need lives”, stating that workplaces need to help to make this happen and that it will ultimately benefit both men and women.
- There is arguably a commercial imperative for business to promote women. You are missing out on a large talent pool if you don’t – especially given 60% of women and 40% of men graduate from university. Diversity in the workplace can also lead to more critical thinking, new and innovative ideas, creativity, and less tunnel vision.
- Interestingly, there is still a $100,000 gender pay gap in senior management roles. An audience member spoke up and shared that she’d like to see the private sector become more transparent in their wage levels – sharing her experience of female employees at the same level as men being paid tens of thousands of dollars less. She argued that private sector needs to publicly advertise their pay levels, similar to the public service.
- Diversity is different to equality – having a diverse workplace does not mean we have an equal one. Multiple examples of this were presented throughout the evening – for example, an audience member shared that in her workplace, women were often promoted as ‘salary partners’ not ‘equity partners’. For this reason, Dr Mayes argued that focusing on numbers, measures and targets will not solve the problems women face in the workplace – as they do not address subtle discrimination, ‘merit’ issues, and power issues. Focusing on numbers and diversity alone will not change this.
- Gender equality issues in the workplace are deep and will take a long time to fundamentally change. Elizabeth Broderick was quoted: “It’s not about fixing the women, it’s about fixing the system.”
- We (especially leaders) have a responsibility to speak up, to ‘risk’ being labelled a ‘feminist’, to be mentors, to take responsibility for our own actions (e.g., not sharing sexist and discriminatory jokes and memes about Julia Gillard!), to offer good peer support, to have a dialogue about these issues, and to attempt to change what equality looks like at home and at work.
- Remember that it is okay to ‘boss shop’ when applying for positions. Ask questions. Examine the organisation and what they stand for. Seek out an inclusive workplace where you can.
I hope you find the notes from the Leading Change event interesting. What has been your experience of diversity and equality issues in the workplace? Feel free to share in the comments below.
Let’s soar together,