The Australian

Inclusive behaviour the key to achieving gender equality in the workplace

Inclusive behaviour the key to achieving gender equality in the workplace

A female executive still remains a rare sight in the C-suite of ASX 200 companies. However, the reason is less clear.

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Inclusive behaviour the key to achieving gender equality in the workplace

This article originally appeared in The Australian (subscription required).

We can all agree that the statistics on the proportion of women at the top of Australian organisations is woeful. A female executive remains a rare sight in the C-suite of ASX 200 companies, and men are nine times more likely to hold executive leadership positions than women.

However, there is less agreement on what gets in the way of women’s progression. There are a range of myths. Main myth one: women are not ambitious. Main myth two: skilled women are in scarce supply.

A few years ago, Bain & Co and Chief Executive Women embarked on a joint myth-busting mission to uncover the facts about what needs to change to improve gender diversity in the workplace. We have just completed the fourth in a series of surveys of Australian executives.

When you ask men what gets in the way of women reaching the top of their organisations, 60 per cent will tell you that the challenge of managing the competing priorities of family and child rearing is the key barrier. Yet, ask women the same question and the answer is poles apart. More than 80 per cent of women report that two key factors hold them back: the perception that a women’s leadership style is different; and that men are more likely to value and promote those whose perspectives are similar to their own.

This is a tough issue to solve and not one that can be easily addressed with a top-down corporate mandate or by introducing new “female-friendly” policies. Overcoming these biases, whether they are conscious or unconscious, requires creating a culture that genuinely values and embraces diversity of opinion and leadership style. This is not easy. It takes deep commitment and a certain amount of mature self-confidence on the part of a leader to accept the need for culture change of this scope and to genuinely promote it.

It is hardly surprising that visible leadership from the CEO is the overwhelming response from women to the question of what creates equal opportunity in the workplace. Yet, fewer than 50 per cent of women we surveyed agree with the statement: “The leadership team at my company or organisation has made gender parity a visible priority.” So what is it that women are looking for from their leaders as it relates to gender diversity? Is this best addressed by highly symbolic actions from the CEO, such as publicly committing to diversity targets? More than 1500 women and men took part in the latest Bain/CEW research, which drilled down into the impact of a CEO’s behaviour on gender diversity.

Read the full article at The Australian (subscription required)

Melanie Sanders is a partner in Bain & Co. Kathryn Fagg is member of the Reserve Bank board and of the Chief Executive Women’s Council.


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