Each of these may not be articulated by the leader, but often the assumption is just below the surface:
1. You haven’t asked about the skills you need for the next position, so you have no career ambition. You will be happy to stay in the position you have.
2. You haven’t asked for a pay rise so you must be happy with the remuneration you get. There are lots of others speaking up and I don’t want to disappoint them.
3. You don’t really understand financials so we can’t put them in a P& L position.
4. You won’t want to take an interstate or overseas role because you are tied to your current location with family.
5. Now you have returned from maternity leave you will be less ambitious in your career. You have other priorities that will take more of your time.
6. When I did your performance review you provided a balanced scorecard so I could see all the things you hadn’t completed. I gave you and average grade.
7. You don’t put any ideas forward so you are not really “top talent”. You don’t seem prepared to share your ideas.
8. You want to work flexibly starting early and finishing early but happy to take calls later. Flexible work is so inconvenient for me, I would prefer you are just here.
9. I really don’t think you could cope with working with the shop floor or the field. It is no place for a lady. Really there are some areas that we can’t put women in our organisation.
10. I really value your work but there are still a few areas you need to develop before your next role. I can’t promote you yet as you still have things to learn.
I’m short, or as I have been called “vertically challenged”.
When I go to a lectern to speak, I am often too short to really see over and connect effectively with the audience. It is rare to find a lectern that I can clearly see over and thus the I feel disconnected from those I am seeking to engage. It is possible to bring in a step or a pile of phone books which was used once but now might be difficult to find but this is hardly an elegant solution.
My solution is to ask for a lapel mike and move away from the lectern altogether. This gives me the freedom to better connect as there is no barrier between me and the audience . I take a strong pose on the stage: no rocking, no criss cross legs and no folded arms. It does mean that I need to talk with either no notes or a few cards. (Remember to wear something like pants or have a belt to hook the microphone at the back)
My second option is to suggest a panel or interview style where chairs on a stage make height difference less obvious. (Remember to check if they will use stool and don’t get perched on a stool in a very short skirt).
So please, if you are organising a conference and have female speakers, consider how you can support them to be at their best and to maximise audience engagement.
Executives speak out – again and again – on gender equality. They say they support it, they write about it, they say they are actioning it and say it is a business imperative.
But have they stepped out of their comfort zone, accepted that their biases, their leadership style, their remuneration plans may not demonstrate this to those across the organisation. If those who interact with the leader day by day don’t feel it then it is unlikely to happen.
One leader who strongly supports gender equality told me recently, when their small daughter said they wanted to work in a hospital …. quick as a flash he said “you will make a wonderful nurse”. It was a moment to stop and think about the underlying assumptions that were still active subconsciously. Yes … he then said or a doctor or surgeon ….
When leaders talk about their vision of gender equality it will only be taken seriously if their actions demonstrate that they are serious!
If you have aspirations of either starting your own business or gaining a C-Suite role it is unlikely to be successful if you haven’t been in a client facing sales role and a role with P&L responsibility.
Many women will say in the workplace “I don’t understand the financials”. This limits career progression and other opportunities that may have come their way. Many men don’t fully understand financials but would never admit to it openly and would ensure they have the key fundamentals in place.
A line role in the business is something every woman should seek. You can learn on the job or take a short course or study on line to catch up with the basics. You are not seeking to become the CFO, but you do need to understand the key challenges for your organisation and confidently understand a P&L, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow.
Effects of changes in exchange, shipping rates, competitor changes, industry changes all impact the success of any business. You want more opportunities in your career? Take the time to get the knowledge and find a position or project in which can learn!
Have you ever been called aggressive? I have during my time at Apple. If I had been a man, I am sure that my determination would have been seen as a positive attribute. As a woman, I think my male CEO felt threatened. He was comfortable with women in secondary roles but not leading. I found the tag “aggressive” an uncomfortable label.
For the first 10 years of my time at Apple I was working to build the education market for Apple in Australia. It was hard work, computers were new and expensive, few teachers had computer skills and schools could only afford a few systems. I was determined that computers could enhance learning. I could see from my teaching background that word processing, programming, spread sheets and other applications could provide new learning environments for students. It was exciting for me to be at the front of the wave of change. I worked really hard, doing tenders, writing the first software directory, running in-service programs to give teachers the skills to get started and bringing technology to the school. I was also successful bringing in over 50% of the Apple Australia revenue. I was not the demure and reserved employee that our leader wanted as a woman.
In 1997, I became Managing Director at Apple in Australia thanks to the sponsorship of Steve Vamos. One of the first questions I was asked by the press was “Who I had trampled to get the position”. I was stunned and saddened. My success, I firmly believe was around the ability to provide an inclusive workplace for all. This included flexible working, working from home, focussing on the outcomes of our team as a group rather than individual heroes. We won “Employer of the Year” in 2000 –the highlight of my career.
For 9 months in 2000/2001 I was treated from Breast Cancer. I job shared Managing Director with my Marketing Director and had confidence that the Executive team would work together to make the best decisions for the company. Apple in Australia continued to thrive during that time.
Since then I have succeeded in founding and growing Xplore for Success (xplore.net.au) from the germ of an idea to a thriving business with a revenue of over two million dollars.
If someone asks me today if I am aggressive I have a better answer. I am determined that Australia moves towards more inspiring leadership, more inclusive workplaces and that both men and women can thrive at work. I am clear on my vision “Gender equality is everyone’s business”.
Once again two women are called aggressive. What is their career? TV interviewing. What do people like me expect? They get the answers to questions that are key to understanding the topic. What would make me disappointed? That they let our political leaders continue to respond with their “pre-prepared spin”.
For men – tough interviewers
For women – aggressive
Malcolm you just lost my respect. Leigh and Emma well done!
What do leaders look like? I read this article recently and it was interesting with some excellent points. However, I had great trouble getting past the image. The image is a graphic but every person in it is obviously male. When we talk about unconscious bias this is the kind of thing that affects our thinking. With just a little more effort the writer could have selected a more inclusive image.