BlueNotes debate: women’s visibility is everyone’s responsibility

BlueNotes Debates brings together important voices across the business, economic and social spectrum to thrash out crucial issues of the day. For International Women's Day, we tackled the issue of women's lack of workplace visibility. Who really is to blame?

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

Despite a potentially divisive question (are women their own worst enemies when it comes to visibility in the business community?) the first BlueNotes debate for 2015 concluded both sexes have a major role to play in helping to increase women's visibility in the workplace.

"Believing in the side that effectively says it’s the men’s fault won’t change a thing."
Pam Rebecca, General Manager of Digital ANZ

BlueNotes debate: women’s visibility is everyone’s responsibility

A crowd of around 140 at ANZ's Melbourne headquarters, swung back and forward on the subject as a high-profile panel of media and industry guests and ANZ talent debated the vexed issue.

The formal question was “Not seen, not heard: Forget unconscious bias. Now, the biggest barrier to promotion and visibility in the business community is women themselves. True or False."

Both sides tackled their respective sides convincingly, taking a nuanced rather than ideological or black-and-white approach to a complex problem. When it came to a vote from the crowd, the teams could be not split.

Speaking on behalf of the negative side, ANZ's general manager of digital Pam Rebecca told the women in the room understanding they could be their own impediment could change their career.

“Believing in the side that effectively says it's the men's fault won't change a thing, while you sit around, like generations of women have, and wait," she said.

“Choosing the side that says women are responsible, puts you in the frame for taking action."

She built on a case put by The Australian Financial Review's eminent Chanticleer columist Tony Boyd who courted controversy when he quoted a female source who called women in the workplace “their own worst enemy" - a point countered by KPMG's chairman Peter Nash who argued positive side's position was “fundamentally flawed".

ANZ Managing Director Global Commercial Banking Mark Whelan was blunter: "Shame, shame, shame" was his summation of the opposite view. He blamed entrenched bias in the system.

“There's no way women alone can change it," he said. “We all have to work together. Men have set up the business world just the way they like it."

To the delight of the crowd, Whelan said it was hard for women to be role models if they did not have the role to start with.

Twitter highlights

Fiona Vines ‏@FionaVines
@ANZ_BlueNotes social media is critical to increasing visibility for women #notseennotheard

Chris Wilson ‏@aussiecw
@ANZ_BlueNotes great debate on women in the workforce. I have 3 young boys and this is so important for them growing up as well #bndebates

katherine milesi ‏@katherinemilesi
Bloomberg editor in chief instructs all journos to quote a woman in every article. Things can change overnight. #bndebates

“So in summary, we all have a role to play in addressing unconscious biases and promote all women into senior roles," he said.

ANZ's global chief of human resources Susie Babani used her time to run though common barriers to promotion for women as well as some classic misconceptions about women in the workplace, urging leaders not to try to change the women, but “change the environment."

In response, BusinessDay deputy editor Nassim Khadem ran through a long list of programs aimed at levelling the field in the workplace, before concluding “if our structures and laws are changing, if our CEOs are on board… then the main factor stopping women progressing, sadly, is women themselves."

The debate caused a small storm on social media, where many weighed in with their opinion.

When it came to the final vote, however, support was so split that moderator and BlueNotes managing director Andrew Cornell was reluctant to call a result, giving the BlueNotes' debate series its first tie.

The responsibility for increased visibility in women in the workplace is, as far as the crowd was concerned, something for all of us equally.

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

editor's picks

03 Mar 2015

The missing link for women in leadership

Amanda Gome | Former head of digital and social media, ANZ

Visibility may be a missing link in promoting more women into senior leadership roles. In a surprise finding from a survey of Notable Women, a program undertaken by 55 senior female leaders at ANZ in Australia and New Zealand in 2014, increased visibility contributed to greater confidence in pushing for leadership roles.

27 Feb 2015

Being visible is key to being a leader

Victoria Kanevsky | Contributing editor, BlueNotes

One of Asia's most influential women in banking and finance has urged aspirational leaders to make clear their value in the workplace if they want to be successful in a tough business world.

27 Feb 2015

The long shadow

Jo Mikleus | Former Chief of Staff, ANZ

My daughter Grace stopped me in my tracks recently. “It’s good to see successful females,” she said, referring to Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.