Melanie Sanders: Advancing Women in Australia

To increase the progression of women into the C-suite in Australia, leaders can address bias in employee assessments and promotions. Melanie Sanders, a partner with Bain & Company and a member of Chief Executive Women, discusses four ways to create better meritocracy within Australian companies.

Bain Brief: Advancing Women in Australia—Eliminating Bias in Feedback and Promotions

Read the transcript below.

MELANIE SANDERS: In the course of our research, we've found that one of the top three actions required to see an increase in the progression of women into senior leadership positions in Australia is addressing bias in recruitment and promotion decisions. It's an undeniable truth that men outnumber women by a factor of six at the very top of our Australian organizations. And therefore, to see any meaningful change in the statistics and see more women make it into the C-suite, we need our decision makers—who remain men, in the most part—to embrace new thinking, to change their behaviors and to appoint qualified women into the C-suite. And this is going to fundamentally mean appointing occupants who look different to the past, and that can feel risky.

We were therefore not surprised to see three quite substantial differences in the performance feedback received by women. We found that women are twice as likely to be told that they need to be more confident to be promoted. We found that they were a third more likely to be told they needed more experience. And we also found that women were substantially less likely to get clear input into what they actually needed to do to get promoted.

So women are being told, "Do your jobs with more confidence, have more experience," and they aren't given very much clarity about what's required. And this starts to paint a picture that perhaps women are seen as being more risky appointments.

To address this, we think there are four things Australian organizations need to do to create better meritocracy in their companies. One, train managers to give better performance feedback and career guidance that's SMART. By SMART, we mean Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely.

Second, make sure that you provide women and men great sponsors—people who will advocate on their behalf and perform some sort of bias interruption, if you like, in the process.

Thirdly, make sure that organizations provide the career development opportunities to women and men that allow them to develop the skills and experiences they need to get promoted.

And lastly, organizations need to look at their policies and practices to make sure there isn't inherent bias in the way they're recruiting and promoting.

Bain Brief: Advancing Women in Australia—Eliminating Bias in Feedback and Promotions