‘Currently, we [!australia!] have both one of the world’s lowest rates of educated women participating in the workforce and one of the world’s highest rates of female education. In other words, we are getting the world’s worst return on the multi-billion-dollar investment we make in female education every year.’ – David Gonski
There is no doubt that the advancement of women and achieving a gender-balanced approach to the workforce is simply better for business. Research is proving time and again that the results from companies with a relevant mix of men and women perform better. And the most progressive companies are realising that women still represent a largely untapped source of talent.
Yet women in full-time employment are now, on average, paid less in the dollar than men than we were 10 years ago. Only 1 in 5 board members in Australia are women. Women are given less sponsorship opportunities, have less access to informal promotion routes, and are in the minority when it comes to C-level positions.
For women in leadership roles in Australia, the constant battle to unglue our feet from that sticky floor of workplace inequality can get incredibly tiring. We hold commissions, think tanks, inquiries and productivity studies, we talk a lot of talk and argue bitterly about the issues we face, and yet the fact is this: the infamous glass ceiling is still firmly in place.
What’s really going on?
Is there something to be said in the statement that, as women, we can sometimes be our own worst enemies?
Too many amazing women suffer from self-doubt, and struggle to put themselves forward and out there. We don’t speak up; we don’t ask for the promotion or apply for the job, because we don't believe we are good enough or have the right experience.
There continues to be a group of women in business colloquially known as the ‘Queen Bees’. These are women that have achieved success, that bask in all its glory, and are ready, willing and able to push back down the ladder any female co-worker that threatens them.
When it comes to a conversation about salary, the whole, "it's not nice to talk about money", politeness needs to go out the window and be replaced with open and transparent discussions, as it may just uncover the inequity that truly exists.
We continuously compare ourselves to others and, if not, we judge other people’s decisions. Worst of all we don’t believe that we have a choice, or that we can take ownership of our career path. We don’t have a voice at the table, and instead enter the realm of blaming others and external forces for not getting what we want.
As women, there is no doubt that we are more risk averse than men. We need to take personal responsibility for putting ourselves forward, asking for what we want, and following our dreams and passions. At the end of the day, if we don’t ask we don’t get.
At the same time, organisations and leaders need to provide encouragement and the opportunities for talented men and women to shine. Maybe the traditional way of working, recruiting and interviewing is not the right way any more?
I really believe that women who have made it to a certain level of success, both in corporate life and as entrepreneurs, need to become far more proactive, both in terms of sponsoring those on the way up the leadership ladder, and also in speaking out about their own terms of employment. We need to become far more ready to sponsor—not just mentor—younger women. Equally, we need to encourage men to sponsor younger women.
We all have a choice—either keep hitting our heads on the glass ceiling and accept the situation, keeping us well and truly stuck to that sticky floor, or work on smashing through the ceiling one stiletto at a time.
If nothing changes, we will lose half of our brilliant minds and impact the future generation of female leaders, the ones who are watching and noticing the conversations and decisions that are already being made by decision makers today.
It’s time to unstick the stilettos one step at a time, hold our heads high, operate in our own individual spotlights, take ownership of our careers and work collaboratively to smash that glass ceiling to pieces.
The conversation is starting. It’s time for us to shine and individually, and collectively, change the game.