It’s a man’s world. Boys will be boys. The glass ceiling. Play them at their own game. The gender pay gap. The lack of women on boards. No female CEO’s in our top 50 companies. Diversity, or lack thereof.
So many issues, so little change.
Or is there?
This week I sat in a theatre listening to a panel of women who have not only broken the glass ceiling, they’ve smashed it. I felt inspired and encouraged that we have women like this who have stampeded their way through the misogyny of the modern day working world.
Rajna Patel – director and co-founder of Nirvana Health Group. Anne Blackburn – investment banker turned director. Theresa Gattung – former CEO of Telecom and co-founder of My Food Bag. And the sole representative male voice of Rob Campbell, investor and director. The brainchild of the Pantograph Punch, and chaired by journalist Janet McAllister, these fascinating individuals shared their knowledge and war stories from careers spent breaking down entrenched gender bias in company ranks, and redefining how women are seen in business. Not an easy task.
All agree that there isn’t the raw sexism that there was back in the day, but it is still there. Embedded in male business leaders are the habits that overlook women and minorities for executive and upper management roles.
Rob Campbell summed it up best. “There are a large number of women pushing hard, but there is still sexism. The problem is men on boards that don’t want women on boards.”
Anne Blackburn took it one step further. “We need to stop thinking that women are displacing a man. We need to think it’s about what the woman brings to the board. I once was told that men are promoted on the potential they are perceived to have, while women are promoted on the performance they have shown in the past. So it’s looking forward for men, while for women it’s looking back.”
So how do we tackle this as women in the workforce that may not have reached our full potential and are battling to get ahead?
Theresa Gattung believes that women need to “stop thinking of themselves as labour, and start thinking of themselves as capital”. This means that rather than settling for being a salaried worker, explore options to create opportunities for yourself. Consider becoming an entrepreneur and start your own business. Or choose the environment that you work in carefully. If your workplace is not supportive of women in upper management and executive roles, or the company philosophy does not subscribe to the belief that advancement is based on the skills of the applicant and not their gender, then it’s time to look elsewhere.
Ethnic women in particular are lacking confidence, adds Rajna Patel. “Generally speaking, these women are often in the lowest paid jobs in the workforce, and don’t aspire above that. Low pay levels equal less chances of moving up. They need someone to say ‘I believe in you’, and train them to manage people and budgets.”
All agree that change is happening slowly in the private sector, but change in the public sector is almost non-existent.
The final piece of advice came from Anne Blackburn. “Women need to perform at a higher level of excellence and energy to not be overlooked. Don’t try and out-bloke the blokes. If you keep working at it, you will get noticed and rewarded.”
Change is afoot.