The likely answer:
Based on past performance it will take several decades to catch up because we don't believe in or behave as though we want equality.
'Hope is not a method' ... and 'Talk does not cook rice' are opening premises from the Gender Equality chapter in Stepping Up (Chapter 7)
'It's the most difficult challenge I have ever undertaken'
Anonymous CEO (page 198)
After a decade at the helm and dedicated programs and tools designed to support the development and succession of females to reach senior management and leadership, the CEO who made this statement looked bewildered that he was out of ideas.
Leadership development, mentoring programs and flexible working options alone will not achieve sustainable change. Attending to the symptoms won't remove the cause.
Things are the way they are because 'that's how things get done' in Australian culture. And Australian culture affects your organisation culture.
Historically: Men and women have both been culpable
The UK didn't get a female PM 31 years before Australia because it had talented women and we didn't, it's because the assumptions held by both men and women in this country – about the roles and value of each gender – create barriers to change and progress.
While men have held much of the power to 'the way things get done', women have in some ways contributed to the lack of change by perpetuating 'learned' behaviour through the habits they had adopted: habits that reinforce old assumptions and values. For a long time women had no choice and had to conform, but now they do. Learning to adjust the 'roles we play' is part of evolving our culture (pages 183-184, Chapter 10).
In addition, some women are criticised for climbing the ladder and then pulling it up after them - blocking access for other women. Chapter 7 reports reasons why some are thought to keep the space to themselves.
Practically: We fail to appreciate the impact of other cultures
Stepping Up explains in graphic detail how the culture of our nation and the subcultures within it – industries, towns, communities, sports, politics, religion, education, families – all contribute to the fact that senior management across Australia is largely male and Caucasian (Chapters 5, 8 and 9).
Your approach to achieving gender diversity will change when you recognise the power the subcultures of our nation have over your organisation culture.
Economically: We deny the costs of the gender cycle
How high is your current staff turnover? 10%, 15% or 20%? (page 208.) What proportion of this is female? There are significant productivity gains to be made from getting females to stay in the workforce, return to work after maternity breaks and stick around long enough to contribute at senior levels.
The annual spend on recruiting, motivating, training and mentoring women is offset every year by the loss of their IP and continuity with every departure. The cycle starts again and the costs are not insignificant.
Statistically: We ignore the maths and the reasons why people leave
Some women leave to obtain broader experience and higher pay. However we know from the demographic of senior management that more women leave than men. Similarly most Asian and other non-Caucasian graduate hires have also left by mid-management level (pages 121, 245). Those remaining at the top are generally male and Caucasian: this homogenous group suggests that we have lost the diversity we had at lower levels.
There is a pattern and we know from science and maths studies that patterns are significant. They explain things (Chapters 8-11)
Operationally: We use Band-Aids to avoid conflict and disruption
'Programs' alone are not sustainable for many reasons. Mentoring and development is appreciated and necessary to assist females to catch up, but these strategies won't remove the causes of the gender equality issues outlined in Stepping Up (Chapter 7).
The causes arise from assumptions resting at the bottom of all our cultures – your company's culture, those of your leaders and employees, the communities they live in and the company they keep. It is here that we need to focus our effort.
Addressing these challenges
See the Culture Iceberg and the Culture Circuit – frameworks that describe how culture change works – in Stepping Up.
See Stepping Up Contents Page
A home truth
The first time I ever experienced overt sexual discriminated was in 2009 in Australia and it came from a female CEO. Having worked before 2009 in New Zealand, across Asia and Europe with mostly male CEO's, boards and executives, I was flabbergast to be told 25 years into my career 'Pamela, I'm going to give the gig to Peter because I think we need a male to lead the men on this issue'.
If the assumption that 'a male would be more successful at persuading another male than a female' is accurate then Australia is 31 years behind the UK in more ways than one. The important question here is what could that female CEO have done differently to shift that assumption rather than reinforce it?
How do we speed things up?
It's a two-edged sword: gender equality and improved productivity will come when we remove the barriers that limit full participation of females in society and the workplace across Australia. We must:
- remove barriers in organisations
by shifting assumptions that drive the behaviours blocking gender equality in businesses (Chapters 8 and 11);
- remove barriers in society
by encouraging male and female leaders across business and society to help shift the elements of the Australian culture that impact on our economic performance (Chapters 9 and 10).
See FIVE Top Tips below
Stepping Up ...
'Those looking for some strategic direction in progressing their business - particularly from the perspective of workplace culture - will find food for thought here.
(Young) approaches the problem systematically and thoroughly over 12 logically sequenced chapters heavily complemented with quotes from '100 leaders' representing both Australia and the region.
The diversity evident in their extensive opinions adds an extra dimension to Young's work that makes 'Stepping Up' what any important contribution to public policy debate should aim to become: a conversation starter.'
Ai Group's Industry magazine July 2013 Read full review here
FIVE Top Tips
detailed inside Stepping Up
1. Evolve a leader's values to recognise both genders – Chapter 10
The Culture Circuit outlined in Stepping Up helps you assess the impact of your own 'individual culture' on your workplace culture so that you can adjust your values to reflect the current times and meet the demands of the future. If we sail through life without making the occasional adjustment, our values can get out of step with progress, or worse, we can hold progress back.
2. Shift assumptions about females that drive the bad behaviours – Chapters 5 and 8-11
Working only on the top layers of your culture (artefacts and behaviours) will not produce sustainable change. You need to address causes at the bottom layers too (assumptions). A wrong assumption like 'females prefer motherhood over career because they rarely return to work' can undermine your investment in a women leaders development program: while the assumption remains the culture will favour males
3. Assess culture's impact on gender and your bottom-line – Chapter 7-8
your top team is largely male, despite recruiting 50/50 male/female
graduates each year, you have to ask why. The answer is not only that women leave to have children. Women
leave for many reasons
including: feelings of exclusion, discrimination, bias and lack of 'fit' in a
male-oriented culture. The
costs that flow from the loss of female talent and the diversity that
they bring can runs into millions or even billions.
4. Influence local communities – Chapters 5, 8-9
can help shift the values of any group to which you belong – including
your family, town, sports club, church or temple, school, university or
group has its own culture from which members adopt values, attitudes and
behaviours. You might be a leader in several of these groups. If you
are, your influence counts and you can help to speed up change inside
your company, by helping to change the culture of groups outside your company that impact on its performance.
5. Lead change, make a difference – Chapter 12
Down-under we pride ourselves on our adventuring spirit and our readiness to 'give it a go'. Yet when it comes to leading change – which requires less confidence and courage than a bungy-jump – we often fall shy of the task.
Why? It could be the tall poppy syndrome or that our leaders are weary from past efforts to lead change. Whatever the case we need men and women leaders to unite to lead change in society to support the changes we are making in companies.
'100 leaders' say it's "too slow"
Most of the 100 leaders interviewed believed we can't afford to wait two generations or even two decades to get gender equality in Australia and that a faster solution must be found. To speed up the pace culture change must occur across ALL cultures that you and your people are connected to.
Educate your people using Book Circles
Roll out with 'Engagement Cascades'