As at April 30 this year, only 20.4% of ASX200 companies had a woman on their boards, while 38 of them do not have any women as board members. If this is the situation in our top public companies, is it surprising that women in leadership is an endemic issue for a large number of corporations within Australia? And in fact globally?
Equality is not just a word that should be thrown around on social media, or in positioning a company to graduates who are employment opportunity shopping. It rests on an entire organisation’s shoulders to promote – and promote – women as leaders based on their skillsets, their natural abilities, their desire to lead, and the values of a true meritocracy.
The attitude of those at a C-Suite level is of prime importance in encouraging others within the company to see the need for more women within leadership roles. This applies equally to men and women, but perhaps in different ways.
In terms of males in senior positions, the way that they think, act and behave directly influences younger males in the organisation. If they openly support equality within senior management, and understand the value of women in these roles, then they are setting an example for the next generation to follow.
For women, they provide an aspirational figure for junior females to look up to. They are also able to have an extraordinary impact on those same younger men. If they witness strong, influential women who have made leadership almost unremarkable, in that it is simply the end result of hard work and desire, rather than down to gender, then that will become their status quo.
This means not leaving equality at the HR door. Too often, the idea of promoting women in leadership is seen as belonging to the HR function, when in fact it is the responsibility of all managers, whether they have a team of one or one thousand.
Active sponsorship is still not readily adopted by large corporates, with a few notable exceptions, and when it is, studies have shown that sponsors still stick to tried and true methods. Like sponsors like; within gender, within ethnicity, within educational experience and socio-economic class.
Companies need to be more active in their attitude of engagement when it comes to developing the sponsor/spondee relationship. If you take an example of one of those ASX200 businesses – say with one female board member out of twenty – and give them each a spondee. Traditional sponsorship patterns would dictate that nineteen of the ‘sponsees’ would therefore be male. This means there is little to no chance of female leadership levels increasing within said company from that specific resource point.
Lessons can be learned here from what might appear to be an unlikely source of company attitude towards female leadership; the Australian Defence Force. In many ways it’s been a groundbreaker when it comes to equality in the workplace for decades.
Pay rates are, across every position and every rank, equal, which cannot be said for private industry within Australia. There is no position now within the Australian Army that is not open to females. There is no distinction between men and women when it comes to the criteria for promotion, and there has been acknowledgement that women are actually more suited for leadership within some roles as their skillsets are essential to the work being done – for example, with displaced women and children within warzones. It has taken a great deal of shaking the tree to get rid of some of the misogynistic beliefs within the ADF, but it is happening.
It is this lack of distinction between the sexes that is key to the future of female leadership within companies, and their overall attitude needs to reflect this. Yes, there is a difference in the skills and even the emotions that men and women bring to positions as leaders; but what shouldn’t be different is the way they are seen, or the way that they get there. A woman as CEO shouldn’t be a cause for celebration – rather, an incredible individual as CEO should. That’s when the attitude to women in leadership will truly have succeeded – when it becomes unremarkable.