Meritocracy – it’s a myth

When I meet someone for the first time, like you, it takes only 10 seconds for us to evaluate them. Our first criteria is are they like us or as Seth Godin says are they part of our tribe. In today’s business world, when we look for leaders, we expect them to be tall, caucasian and male – because today that is what we see. When we read the business section, a picture of a woman takes our attention because it is unexpected.

Malcolm Gladwell noted that in the U.S. population, about 15 percent of men are six feet or over. Among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies the number is 58 percent. Even more strikingly, in the same population, 3.9 percent of adult men are 6’2″ or taller. Among the CEO sample, 30 percent were 6’2″ or taller.

When leaders tell me that all promotions are made on merit, my next question is about how do they define merit? Then I ask has that led to diversity in their leadership team? If not, perhaps their identification of merit isn’t delivering them diversity.

These are the questions that lead to the realisation that gender diversity in the workplace requires us to see talent that is outside our natural bias. Targets achieve the focus required to consider if the organisations assumptions of merit are working for them to achieve gender equality or working against it.

Take the best seat….

When you arrive at a meeting early enough to have a choice of seat, think about where you would like to sit!  Get there early and have all the materials you need for the meeting.

1.  Meeting leader at the top of the table – if you are the project leader take the seat that goes with it.

2.  Leader support (PA or other) on the left and right of the leader so that they can have an aside if need be

3.  The other end of the table is a conflict position so avoid that

4.  Pick right of left side half-way down for best eye-contact without conflict

5.  Someone you find difficult?  Ask them to sit beside you.  It will build rapport and also it is very difficult to have conflict with the person beside you

6.  Take your space with your materials, welcome other by standing shaking hands and if you don’t know them give your first and last name and credentials or title.  This gets over people wondering why you are there

7.  Don’t offer to take notes or get coffee, this positions you as a very junior participant.  Often for women this may undermine you confidence and respect if you accept.

8.  When the meeting starts, ensure you are sitting straight and slightly forward with all your materials organised in front of you.  This will make you look ready and confident of your position.  (Don’t allow the inner voice give you ideas about being an imposter).  When you sit straight you look for confident.

A slightly different view:

New low in political leadership

Catherine Livingstone AO, president of the Business Council of Australia said

“Yesterday marked a new low point for political leadership in Australia.  At a time of great economic uncertainty, Australia needs and deserves strong leadership, and the opportunity to discuss reform options as a community.  Our political representatives are elected and paid by the community to implement policies that will best serve the country.  Their responsibility is to ensure that there is constructive, well informed debate, leading to implementable outcomes.  It is not to undermine the debate in the cause of party political positioning.”

I agree with her….could we please see leadership to support Australia into the future!

Why I hate lecterns!

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.

How high should I aim?

When I think of my goals in life, I sometimes wonder how high do I feel like going.  My business, Xplore for Success, continues to grow, our team continues to bring new ideas, our participants tell us what a difference our mentoring programs make.  So how high should I aim with my own goals.

Then I think of the women who are bullied, passed over for promotion, lack the confidence to bring forth their ideas and who are paid less than they are worth.  Combined with that I think of the men who have the same experiences in the workplace and then I know the answer.

There really is no “how high”.  I just need to do everything I can to change the workplaces in Australia to allow others with talent to flourish.

Am I aggressive or focussed, determined and assertive?

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 ( 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”.

Women finding new places to thrive!

I get so excited when I see women in our papers and online as successful CEO’s and entrepreneurs. Although our ASX 200 seems to have stalled in identifying and promoting women as top leaders we are seeing change coming through from other directions.

Today Melanie Perkins (CANVA founder) was in the business section of the SMH.  Fabulous article and a fabulous product.  From her LinkedIn – At 27, Melanie is already a serial entrepreneur who recently raised one of Australia’s largest early stage investment rounds as CEO of Canva, a disruptive online platform allowing anyone to create professional quality designs, to investors in Silicon Valley and Australia.  Previously, Melanie founded her first company, Fusion Books, an online design system for schools to create their yearbooks. Fusion Books is now the largest yearbook publisher in Australia and recently expanded to France and New Zealand. Visit

Some our fabulous IT companies in Australia, for example did you know in Australia the head of Microsoft (Pip Marlow), Pandora (Jane Huxley), Google (Maile Carnegie) , Paypal (Libby Roy), (Tracey Fellows) and of course Red Balloon (Naomi Simson)

Other companies include Billabong (Launa Inman), Il Tutto (Lucie Trinco), Bulldogs (Raelene Castle) . Heads over heels does a wonderful job providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to thrive.  Here are some of the groups they work with

I know I have missed many others and I apologise for those that I have missed.  However I just wanted to point out how excited I was to see Melanie getting great business press.