In this interview, I speak with Glenn Smith- Executive Leader of People and Safety for QLD Urban Utilities- on his future D&I aspirations where a diverse and inclusive workforce is ‘just the way we do business’.
Last week speaking at events for International Women’s Day, I was asked the question ‘why are we still talking about women in leadership?’ There are female CEOs, female premiers, we have had a female prime minister, we have higher rates than ever of female university graduates, we have increasing participation in STEM, we have women sporting teams achieving success, we have one of the fastest growing rates of female entrepreneurs in the world.
Research tells us when there is gender balance in our leadership roles, there is direct financial reward. When we have gender balance in our organisations, we are able to reflect our customer base and understand their perspectives. We want to make the best of our people- all of our people- we want to make sure talent rises, people feel challenged and stretched and developed, and that the process is done fairly. To have adaptable and innovative workplaces, our very existence depends on diversity of thought.
In Australia, irrespective of which figures you look at- whether it’s CEO level (15% women), board level (23%), or management level (27%), we very much have a pyramid effect- with more or less equal levels of female & male representation at the lower levels- with a distinct narrowing on the way up to leadership. This is a broad statement- in some industries such as male dominated industries of STEM, we don’t have gender equity even at the bottom of the pyramid. In other female dominated industries such as childcare, we don’t have gender equity at the bottom of the pyramid either. This creates significant impacts on women’s workforce participation, women’s remuneration, women’s superannuation, as well as impacts of the uncounted hours of unpaid work at home.
There are many factors that create this narrowing- or this pyramid shape of leadership. I have asked many Australian leaders & organisations their views on these factors- many of which are myths associated with women in leadership & which dangerously perpetuate the pyramid effect. There is a strain of women’s empowerment that advises about the things women can do to get ahead. It coaches women on how to adjust their behaviours to advance to leadership such as leaning in to taking more opportunities, networking more, developing a power stance, not talking too much, not saying sorry, speaking in a deeper voice, getting a mentor, or the most often repeated- just be more confident. If we all did this would this fix the leadership pyramid issue? International Women’s Day sees a lot of myths perpetuated in an to attempt to answer this very question.
Some of these strategies are useful for both women and men leaders- personal awareness & effectiveness is an essential tool for all leaders. However some of these strategies play directly into the myths about women in leadership. Time spent on developing behaviours such as lowering your voice or standing in a superwoman pose does not increase your actual leadership effectiveness, what it does is play into the current gender bias environment and continues to perpetuate it. There is far too much focus on this element, that if women can just do things differently, just be more confident, the gender equity issue can be resolved. There is an entire mentoring industry set up just for women to address this. Confidence is not assigned to one gender. The confidence chromosome- the assumption that women aren’t born with confidence- is what I hear from many leaders as to the primary reason there are not more women leaders. You will have encountered both confident men & confident women in the workplace. You also will have encountered unconfident women & unconfident men in the workplace. You will have encountered personality & ability differences in the workplace. The confidence myth is unconscious bias at it’s ugliest. Women are twice as likely to believe that men are more confident; creating a virtuous circle of self-doubt for many women. This can leave the individual woman with the guilty assumption that she is not enough or not doing enough and many women give up because they get exhausted or refuse to engage when it seems so impossible.
If we want to embed diversity in leadership- to make it just the way we do business- I challenge you to challenge the confidence myth. Personality & ability differences between certain men and women should not become truths for an entire gender.