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Archive for March 2008

Women @ Work

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So the glass-ceiling thing comes up again. Another study, another article, another blog post asking the same old questions:

WHY are there so few women at senior levels in Australian corporate life? How is it that women, who are at least as well educated as men these days, represent only 12 per cent of ASX 200 executive managers? Why have women been appointed as CEOs of just five ASX 200 companies since 2004?

The Leadership Challenge: Women in Management study by Hannah Piterman presents some interesting observations, and I look forward to reading Aunty Jan‘s response to this in the coming days, but I figured I’d have my say first so that I don’t spend a whole entry being angry at her, rather than the topic.

One participant in the study, a female senior manager, commented that

A lot of women don’t want to be senior women in corporations because they want to have more flexibility and more choice and dedicate more time and focus to other elements of their life”.

The author of the article I read, Jennifer Hewitt, responds:

Fair enough. It’s certainly a sensible alternative to the competitive fixation with titles and offices and status shown by so many men. But, particularly given the growing shortage of skilled employees facing Australian businesses, it’s worth figuring out if such choices have to be so rigid for so many women.

While I totally agree with that, I don’t think it’s fair enough that giving up a career because it’s incompatible with kids is the only ‘sensible option’. Surely there’s a sensible option to deal with this work/life problem if it means sorting the skills shortage?

I’ve been watching Cashmere Mafia recently (I know, I know, in the last post I referred to City Homicide, but bear with me here) and while it is mostly SATC: Married With Higher Paying Jobs, I think there’s at least one storyline that touches on a real issue highlighted by this study — nothing has changed in the corporate world which makes it easy to be a woman in management.

Frances O’Connor’s character is middle-management in a finance firm who also happens to be a mother. Every aspect of her arc is basically about her family v work dilemma. In two episodes, colleagues trying to out-do her for promotion fix meetings and projects with the hope she won’t be able to make it due to family commitments. According to Dr Piterman:

Working mothers are excluded from key roles, projects and opportunities due to a work structure and a culture that does not accommodate their needs

and the author of the article I read points out that

A number of the most successful women in the study either don’t have children or have a very supportive partner or engage in complex juggling acts that are not sustainable.

I’ve been naughtily watching eps before they’re on TV here, so I won’t say any more on the CM stuff, just that it got me thinking about the glass ceiling over the weekend when, lo and behold, here is this interesting study which notes

Female talent is ultimately lost as working mothers fail to achieve effective flexible work arrangements and abandon demanding corporate careers.

I’ve spoken to a men running large corporate business who agree that this is a massive problem that needs a creative solution.

Determining what that solution is, or even where the impetus for finding this solution will come from, is not so easy as identifying the problem. I mean, if it’s on a Manhattan-based dramedy, surely it’s old news.

So, who’s it going to be, kids?

Who’s going to just throw their hands up and admit that there’s a serious problem, and that working on the dooms-day skills shortage we currently have may just have to include getting rid of that gosh-darn glass ceiling as well as more TAFEs and 457s?

Because unless someone gives everyone a good kick up the backside, I have a feeling we’ll just sit around twiddling our thumbs and whinging.

I’m not going to say it’ll be easily. It’s not just more childcare centres or paid maternity leave that’s going to fix this problem. The attitude of people in business and the corporate world has to change, because no amount of CBD creches will change stuff like this:

It’s not just because most women tend not to be around as much for the networking ppportunities like the drinks at the pub or the games of golf.

It’s also a more subtle shading that means male executives feel more comfortable with men like them while women who try to emulate that masculine model encourage suspicion, derision and cultural isolation.

“The communication and decision-making styles attributed to women, such as being inclusive and collegial, are seen as incompatible with desired leadership traits of decisiveness and expediency,” the study summarises. “Women’s reluctance (and/or inability) to enter into a game of strategic survival and aggressive personal politics is perceived as weakness and lack of ambition.”

So I’m not just looking at you, Tanya, but also at the guys running all the businesses out there (because, yes, they are guys).

We’ve got the research, we know what’s wrong, we’ve got the impetus… so how about we try and change that whole ‘corporate culture’ thing, shall we?

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Written by Sunili

18 March 2008 at 9:13 am