Key note delivered to the Mining and Resources Sector CEO discussion group on Gender Diversity – held at Deloitte and sponsored by CBA – August 2011
Delivered and written by Margie Hartley
Thank you. I am grateful for the opportunity to share some ideas and experiences with this audience.
I am a facilitator, executive coach, mediator, moderator and speaker. I have the privilege and opportunity to meet thousands of people every year talking about work and what is and isn’t working at work.
I have the opportunity to talk about
• communication challenges at work,
• team performance at work
• family work balance
• leadership and meaning at work
and I have the opportunity to help discover a way forward that is solutions focused and positive.
People love to find a HOW and I attempt to provide that.
My passions are about inclusive workplaces, outstanding and fluid leadership and practically stimulating human potential at work.
Gender Diversity has been a strong focus of mine since 2002 when I began running programs for women in the HOW of positive actions they could take to build their career through Xplore Career Resiliency programs.
In 2002 at my first session the women viewed me suspiciously and asked if they were in trouble.
One woman announced “ I am not a feminist – where are the men – this is sexist” .
“Women’s Only” was viewed with suspicion by both genders.
We invited a senior male leader into the room for an ‘inspirational Q and A” . When asked by one participant his view of gender diversity he stated “Oh, I can’t answer that question my wife’s a stay at home mum”.
In less than 10 years that same employer has become not only an Employer of Choice for women but also holds some of the most audacious representative targets for women in senior management. They are considered a leader in Gender Diversity practices in Australia.
With a multi-faceted approach they have succeeded on many levels to include and attract, promote and retain their female employees.
There was resistance, much conscious and unconscious bias and many culturally engrained barriers. It has been successful because it is led by a passionate and unrelenting CEO and the philosophy is embedded in KPI’s, it is prioritised and structurally and process supported, people are rewarded and recognised for their commitment to an inclusive workplace.
But lets take a step back.
Today I want to cover three key areas.
Firstly what is The Current Temperature in the Australian Board Room’ for gender diversity, and then I want to discuss the issue of the forgotten women AND finally some new thoughts about the need for changed leadership.
Awareness of gender diversity is high.
Anecdotally I can tell you that the client that began a gender diversity program in 2002 (when it was considered with distain by many) has had the greatest growth of any financial services institution in Australia since that time.
The economics now makes sense.
Over the last three days the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspaper in Melbourne have been covering a report written by Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Tim Toohey and to be publicly released on Thursday. The report states that closing the gap between male and female participation in the workplace would increase economic production in Australia by 13 percent or approximately $180 million.
The economics of gender diversity makes sense.
Every board room in Australia has gender diversity on the agenda. Since the ASX governance guidelines outlines including measures and an “IF NOT WHY NOT “reporting policy for gender diversity policies, measures and targets, business has responded by acknowledging the importance of Gender Diversity. The economics makes sense.
Almost every study conducted over the last ten years acknowledges that gender diversity is good for business, performance, engagement, retention, thought and innovation.
Gender Diversity makes business sense.
So how are organizations approaching the issues of a shortage of senior women and a female skills shortage in traditionally male dominated industries?
Most organizations have created policies, flexibility arrangements, mentor programs and more. They have created great advertising campaigns showing young women getting opportunities.
Sometimes though these initiatives remind me of when I worked at a disability charity straight out of university. We would turn up to our speaking engagement to talk about Cerebal Palsy, to create awareness BUT there was no wheelchair access to the venue for my co-speaker Jim who had severe physical disabilities.
The analogy being that we can talk but we also need to act. We need to commit to the wheelchair access as well as talk about it. We need to talk about gender diversity AND equip the organization and the women with the HOW. This is my frustration the lack of HOW for women and leaders in corporate Australia.
The disappearing pipeline of talented women is my greatest concern.
I believe the noise is strong for senior women ….strong enough to sustain continued support.
Where the greatest stress for women lies is in line or middle management.
Extensive University studies show women (and men) are at their most stressed between early 30’s and late 40’s. They are child bearing and rearing, they have ageing parents, 30% are divorced or single parents, they have responsibilities for staff and usually a lack of autonomy in decision making but loads of reporting and they have an organisational expectation to be compliant in taking direction from above.
Life is complex.
If women are to survive and to THIRVE at work then one thing is clear they need support. Barbara Pocock from the Centre for Work Life at Flinders University in Adelaide controversially states that the emergence of the so called ‘sensitive new age man’ has done little to lighten the domestic workload of women. Women hold the emotional capital of a family (birthdays, relationships, homework, diaries ) and surprisingly still the majority of domestic duties.
This talented female middle management workforce need support to stay at work –
practical support on how to be
- resilient at work
– manage conflict and politics ,
- ask for a pay rise
- deal with difficult people
- ask for flexibility
I coach these women as well as the senior talent. These women often will vote with their feet when it becomes too complex…..they begin their own businesses because its too hard and they choose to opt out. They often opt out without their clarity about why or how they could have managed to get support. And corporate Australia loses.
Many highly skilled women do not progress up the corporate ladder. Women and companies are themselves the biggest culprits as evidenced by a report by McKinseys this year.
They state and I quote
“ the issue is particularly acute at the transition from middle manager to senior manager , a point when women have proven themselves professionally yet they disproportionately leave their corporate careers.”
This is a group that needs support, options, coaching, resiliency tips, role models of all shapes and sizes and flexibility that is really flexibility. Not a five day week squeezed into four days or the ability to work 14 horus a day through technology.
Bain and Co and McKinseys and Goldman Sachs discovered through robust research that helping middle management women to develop and advance will make the biggest difference because it reshapes the corporate talent pipeline and helps to increase women at the top and performance of business.
In my experience many of the barriers are also self-imposed by women. Developing a resilience that isn’t taught at university or school or by parents is almost impossible to develop alone. Without this resilience it means that many women accept the negative traditional practices that are and have become entrenched in the organisations they are in.
Women leave organisations for many reasons.
Women stay because they :
+ feel included and valued
+ equipped to flourish
+ developed to lead
+ supported through mentoring and great leadership
+ have access to great real role models (expand)
+ networks with peers
+ given flexibility and understanding through career/family changes
+ given opportunities
+ given cultural permission to be here
great structural support
have role models
+ Unqualified leadership support
Which leads me to pose the question –
What is the greatest leadership challenge now in this changing workforce?
My answer…….To effectively leading diverse teams and diverse organizations.
It’s easy to lead a team of people who are just like you. Same skills, background, schooling, university, class, race, gender……
Its much harder to lead diverse teams.
Leading a diverse team takes
- the ability to travel outside your own world view
– great practical communication skills
an appetite to challenge the cultural status quo
- and a vision for the changing demography of the workplace.
The old ways of thinking about diversity are just that , old. It’s not about it up with a few minorities. All divesity and particularly gender diversity in ANY business from sport to mining makes sense both economic and social.
For business to flourish, people must flourish and a new leadership styles must emerge.
What are you doing to innovate your leadership practices – to support your middle management women – to develop your leaders of diverse teams for a future generation?