Leading growth strategist and culture specialist Pamela Young (pictured) argues that recent events in Australian politics suggests this country is moving backwards on the issue of diversity and gender equality.
Foul play versus passive aggressive excuses: neither strategy will deliver diversity in Australian politics
When you contrast Labor’s front bench to the Liberals front bench it seems they are doing a better job at getting females to the top, but yesterday’s debacle – the secret selection of who would get the top jobs in the new Labour caucus – suggests they are not playing fair to get them there.
On the other hand the Liberal’s explanation for why they don’t have many women is that they can’t find them or they are not ready, which are age-old avoidance techniques and ‘convenient excuses’ totally transparent to the savvy 2013 onlooker.
Since 2006 Australian leaders have been embarrassed at our low level of female participation and representation relative to other nations of the world. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report is nothing to be proud of:
Australia’s ranking amongst 132 countries for female participation in the workforce as has slipped annually since the inaugural report in 2006 from 15th to 25th place in 2012.
Our position relative to women in other countries is even worse when you look at the separate measure for ‘political empowerment’: Australia’s rank sinks from 32 in 2006 to a lowly 42nd place in 2012!
The research I conducted (250 hours of interviewing 100 leaders) for Stepping Up: Lead culture change for diversity and growth in the Asian century, investigating the cultural impediments to achieving diversity in Australia, revealed that we have many underlying forces that are unique to Australian culture that we rarely recognise, and if we do, we generally choose to ignore it:
· Women in Australia who have not been fairly treated in a recruitment process tend to accept the behaviour as normal, often they feel there is something wrong with them and they rarely speak out about it for fear of being labelled a troublemaker;
· When they do speak up about it as Anna Burke has, other people question whether they have a right to complain and often criticise them for being vocal about the discrimination or lack of meritocracy in decision-making. Often they are told to ‘cool down’ or ‘suck it up’ suggesting there is something wrong with them;
· As the cultures of many organisations are male in nature, some women adopt unattractive and competitive behaviours to get there, which are unhelpful and uninspiring to other women. ‘Queen Bees’ who do not want to share the limited space reserved for women at the top and the ‘Self-Interested’ female executives who have sacrificed much to get to the top – that they dare not risk their jobs by speaking out to support other women – are introducing behaviours that are unhelpful to the long-term quest for diversity;
· There are a number of types of ‘male cultures’ that exist in Australian organisations and many are there by consequence of historical facts and they are not necessarily malicious or overtly discriminate against women. However, the most unhealthy of all types is where the ‘Old Boys Network’ operates through behind-the-scenes-politicking and manipulation to protect the top jobs for people who fit the unwritten code of the ‘in group’, over those who might be suitable for a top job should meritocracy exist. Labor has for a long time been criticised for its ‘faceless men’ (their version of the Old Boy Nwtwork yet we continue to accept the bad behaviour and the party continues to operate. By doing nothing, we endorse the behaviour as being acceptable.
What should we expect from leaders in 2013?
For a democratic country in 2013 to gain the respect of its people and those of other nations we must have transparent, democratic processes with full disclosure of the rules and decision criteria so that everyone concerned believes the process is fair and accept the outcome. Without fair process you cannot expect to gain following, cooperation and unity. Without unity, you cannot expect to realise growth and prosperity.
For the process to be fair women must be able to speak up and question process or decisions made without being branded a troublemaker or marginalised to shut up.
For too long women in Australia have been effectively ‘shut up’ by being shamed or cut out of the loop and Stepping Up has identified many examples of women that have been conditioned to keep quiet. This social conditioning is bad for business, bad for Australia and bad for the next generation of women who watch the treatment of women who have gone before them and learn what behaviour to adopt to ‘stay clean’ and in the ‘in group’. This is not democratic behaviour, it is a technique to maintain the status quo – male supremacy.
Once gain we are sending messages to worldwide watchers that Australian women are not getting a fair go.
Pamela Young is a leading growth strategist and culture specialist and the author of Stepping Up: Lead Culture Change for Diversity and Growth in the Asian Century. She is passionate about advancing female leadership. For more information visit the website: www.steppingupaustralia.com.au