Women continue to be underrepresented in senior and leadership roles. Only 15.6 per cent of ASX400 executives are women, which puts Australia behind most developed countries including New Zealand, the United States and Canada.
While women are more qualified than men, with 50 per cent more women graduating from university, their careers do not progress at the same rate.
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) released a research report on this issue, Women in Leadership: Understanding the Gender Gap, in June. 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 interesting and concerning findings of the research was there is an ‘unconscious bias’ which dictates much of the discrimination experienced by women in the workplace. The research states that “ingrained beliefs and traditions, including the way we organise work and the persistence of stereotypical gender roles” are a key reason for this ongoing discrimination.
Bias, whether it is unconscious or not, is draining our corporate arena of talented, smart, intelligent, and able women. And it’s leaving a lack of inspirational and strong leaders and mentors for the younger females coming up through the ranks of tertiary education and the workforce.
Why is it that unconscious bias is still such a serious problem in today’s so-called ‘genderless’ workplaces?
Sociologist William Beilby, suggests caucasian men, who historically have dominated leadership roles, largely overlook women and minority groups with respect to promotions, salary increases and job offers because of preconceived stereotypes about these candidates not being capable.
Often women are excluded from higher management because they are not seen to be prepared to ‘put in the hard yards’. They are often perceived to be softer, gentler and more emotional in temperament which is seen to be at odds with the business environment which can be uncompromising, cut throat and competitive.
Furthermore, assumptions about women’s needs, which aren’t always true of every woman, can also marginalise women and prevent them from entering into senior roles. For example, for positions which involve relocating, often female candidates are excluded as it is assumed they won’t be interested in moving across the country due to family commitments.
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.
Corporate Australia and the government need to recognise that something needs to give now. Partly because the Federal Election presents an opportunity, but also because the number of working women who are juggling childcare, school age children and home duties is on the rise.
Women need to have a hand in this change as well. By speaking up, questioning assumptions and setting expectations, women can challenge unconscious bias and help drive a change for the next generation of women.
About Janine Garner and Little Black Dress Group
Janine is the founder of Little Black Dress Group, a supportive and nurturing global network which helps members to achieve their business and life goals. She is a passionate advocate for women and female leadership in the workplace and believes that significant cultural and corporate change is still needed to see the advancement of women in leadership positions.