On the 6th of June this year, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia’s (CEDA) latest research report, Women in Leadership: Understanding the Gender Gap, was released. The survey of CEDA’s 600 members, mainly professionals in middle to senior management, examined why women are locked out of leadership positions and still lag behind their male counterparts on pay.
One of the findings which really resonated with me was this; the research identified an “unconscious bias” and “ingrained beliefs and traditions, including the way we organise work and the persistence of stereotypical gender roles” as being part of the reason women are discriminated against.
Unconscious bias. What does it mean, and why is it still such a massive problem in a so-called ‘genderless’ workplace?
To be terribly boring and technical for a moment, this is an employment-related claim or theory that largely originates with the sociologist William Beilby, and it alleges that predominantly Caucasian men inevitably slight women and minority groups with respect to promotions, salary increases and job offers because of preconceived stereotypes about said candidates. Here’s a hypothetical example – there is a position which involves relocating from Sydney to Perth. The salary is higher, the responsibilities are far greater – but those making the hiring decisions automatically exclude female candidates because they assume women won’t be interested in moving across the country due to family commitments.
It’s ugly, it’s discriminatory, and it’s real, and worst of all, in the 21st century, it’s an outdated concept which should have caught a cold and gone the way of the dinosaurs by now.
Only 15.6% of ASX400 executives are women – that is nowhere near equality. In the main (and there are notable exceptions), even with companies which in theory embrace diversity and flexible working conditions, women are being excluded from higher management because they are not seen as either capable or prepared to ‘put in the hard yards’. And unfortunately, in many situations, women who are in higher management are encouraged to subdue their more ‘feminine’ management techniques and embrace the masculine and traditional ways of dealing with staff and issues. This is not a way forward in workplace relations, either for employees, or for the managers themselves.
Corporate Australia – and the government – needs to recognise that something does need to give. Why now in particular? Partly because of the lead-up to a Federal Election, but mainly because the number of working women who are also juggling childcare, school age children and home duties – as opposed to men who are in the same positions in work terms, but don’t deal with the added outside pressures – is only on the rise.
And I will add this. We need to speak up ourselves. We need, as women of strength, and as women with a voice in the corporate workplace, to say ‘This is not acceptable. There’s a job in Perth? It’s $25K more a year and I will have a 15% bigger team? Let me apply along with everybody else! Recognise my ability, not my gender. And at the same time, tell me what childcare provisions you have in place in the Perth office. What flexible working conditions do you offer?’
Bias, whether unconscious or not, is draining our corporate arena of talented, smart, intelligent, able women. And it’s leaving a lack of inspirational and strong leaders for the younger females coming up from tertiary education and through the ranks.
Because if your corporate bosses aren’t prepared to listen… your heart and your head will. And you know your own ideas rock.
And another small business is born.
Cut the bias, Australia.