Business women are missing in action

Business women are missing in action

"If I hadn't made that first step to have some visibility, I'm not sure that I would have ever become Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner." - Elizabeth Broderick

Ahead of the first BlueNotes Debate - "Missing in action: Who is more to blame for the lack of women in business media. Men or women?" - Elizabeth Broderick, Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, tells Amanda Gome why it's critical for women to be more visible to progress their careers. 

Come back for our BlueNotes Debate coverage and follow and contribute to the debate live on Twitter @ANZ_BlueNotes from 5.30pm on Monday, 25 August 2014.

Video transcript

Amanda Gome, BlueNotes Associate Editor: Welcome Elizabeth and thank you for joining me. 

In the US the debate has moved from making the case for gender equity on Boards to how to get better gender balance at senior management levels. Where is Australia in that debate? Are we still making the case? 

Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner: I think we are still making the case but I have to say that the issue of women in senior management is very much on the national agenda and that’s a much harder issue than fixing the issue of women on Boards because when you are looking at women in senior management you’re trying to address the culture of organisations but that takes time. I think it is important the debate stays there and that we spend some time on the case for change but actually we need to move to action. 

AG: In May the last board on the FTSE-100 that was female free, appointed a woman. Hallelujah! In contrast the ASX 200 has about 40 companies with no women on Boards. Why are we so behind? 

EB: The 40 boards with no women, that’s just outrageous. In 2014 when women make up 60 per cent of graduates from tertiary institutions that we would have 40 boards out of the 200 with no men, it’s appalling. Some quick fixes there are to help male only boards understand that actually the research is clear you will not produce the best outcomes for your organisation with a make up of all men. The reality is that those Boards who perform best have much greater gender diversity. They have three or more female Board Directors. So actually you’re not doing the best for the company. If you are after optimum results, optimum returns then you need women on your Board and you should be moving to do that very quickly. 

AG: New research from KPMG called Cracking the Code shows that women are not promoted nearly as many times as men are and of course we know that having a family can slow career progression. How can women strategically plan around that issue?

EB: I think firstly being forewarned is forearmed and we do know the promotion rates for women are much slower often because of child bearing. But I think it’s about building trust within the team, open conversations and helping organisations understand that contemporary high performing workplaces have both full time and flexible workers. That flexibility needs to be mainstreamed, that jobs come in all shapes and sizes and there is some great examples of that today in 2014. 

AG: How do you get promoted if you are juggling work and family and working part time?  

EB: I think part of that, is that its no good taking your six day a week job and squashing it into three days a week and saying I will perform in that arrangement. That actually doesn’t work for the employer or the employee. I think making sure that you can contribute as a flexible worker is very much about job redesign, its about organisations working with individuals to make sure the outcomes are appropriate for the job and work practice and that both full time and flexible workers can see a career path because if you cannot see a career path and you are a flexible worker you will end up in what they call a mummy or daddy track and for organisations that won’t deliver the best outcomes in any event. We need the best talent, the best resides 50 per cent in women and actually retaining women over their child bearing age is absolutely critical to having a high performing organisation. 

AG: What can organisations do to encourage women to look beyond the challenge of combining parenthood with career and be more aspirational? 

EB: I think organisations can show women clear career paths for those women who choose not to have children and develop, and those women who do want to have a family as well. Because I think where we’ve come from is most of the women that have reached senior levels up until now have made the choice between career or work. Most women who are at senior levels today have made a choice between career or family - I see that in many organisations. I think what organisations now can do is say “well actually that’s not a binary choice, you can have a strong career and also be engaged in family responsibilities and there are a number of role models in our organisation who can show you how that’s done. Because we can’t be what we can’t see and if we can’t see women at senior levels that have the type of lives that we want to have then that’s not something to aspire to. I think the focus has been on one style of role model. That is what we call the ideal worker. That is someone who is available 24/7, no visible caring responsibilities and for most of us that’s not what we want. So we need a variety of role models. 

AG: Our first BlueNotes debate next week is going to look at that topic of missing in action. Who is more to blame for the lack of women in business media? Men or Women?

Now without stealing your thunder, did you expect by now we would see more women in business media? 

EB: Absolutely. I mean to think that in 2014 where women make up the majority of a population 50.8 per cent that we are educated as a group to a higher level, the absence of women’s voices and women’s views particularly in the business community I find it is distressing and disappointing. I do think it’s a complex issue the fact is there are less women in senior levels in the business sector in Australia is going to be one thing but also it is about perhaps women being less prepared to put themselves forward and on the other side of it its about the media being reluctant to take the extra steps that are necessary to find women who may not be as visible as some men. 

AG: Why do you think women are reluctant to put themselves forward? To be more visible?  To “lean in” to media? 

EB: I think part of that comes from the fact that if you don’t see a lot of other women doing it, then maybe you think that’s not something I could do either. I think also we want to be so prepared, so expert, that we think maybe we’re not the best one to be putting ourselves forward. So that's maybe about humility. Possibly about a lack of confidence. But there is no research to show that women are less confident than men.  What I do think though, is if you sit outside the dominant grouping, and the dominant grouping in business is men, then necessarily you will feel less confident to put yourself forward and I think that’s one other reason that women may not be as forthcoming around to media. 

AG: How important is it to be visible both internally and externally to progress your career? 

EB: Look it’s absolutely critical. Having internal visibility and that’s about sponsorship particularly within organisations but also starting to build connections externally and I know from my own experience I started to get good visibility when I stepped out and gave my first speech which was at a law counsel conference but I know it was that speech that actually gave me some credibility to go out and talk more broadly about areas other than my area of practice - which was technology law. But if I hadn’t made that first step to have some visibility I’m not sure I would of become Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner. So it’s absolutely critical. It doesn’t have to be scary. The more you do it the better you become and I would really urge women to step out, step into the unknown, its ok to be a bit uncomfortable, we are sometimes at our best when we are uncomfortable, but just to be brave and put themselves forward because I know there are so many skilled and talented women in this country and I want to see them equally represented with men particularly in the business arena. 

AG: Thank you for joining me Elizabeth and looking forward to the debate. 

EB: Thanks

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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