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Women in Leadership Image

While women have made great strides in today’s society, sex discrimination still seems to plague the Australian business world. According to a Committee for Economic Development of Australia survey, more than 50 per cent of women have been discriminated against, on the basis of their gender, in their workplace. Even more discouraging, in 2012, only 3.5 per cent of CEOs in the ASX200 were women.

 According to an October Ernst & Young report, however, several corporate leaders, have recognised the problem, and have introduced more flexible work policies and quotas that they hope will keep talented women employed in their businesses. This notwithstanding, the Committee for Economic Development report found that 93 per cent of women believed that barriers to equality in the workplace still exist.

Men At The Top

The apparent stigma against women in high-powered corporate positions may stem from a culture where men are considered to be “macho” and “dominant,” according to the chief executive of Telstra, David Thodey. Australian culture has a pervasive macho-ness quality to it, and as a result, the number of women in top business positions is much less than that of men.

This macho dominance theme may also be to blame for women not feeling as though they are worthy or able to work higher-powered jobs. According to one businessman, women may feel they are not good enough for certain jobs because of the specifications. While men will apply for a job when they might only be able to do 60 or 70 per cent of the role, women feel they have to perform at a much higher rate in order to even qualify for that position.

One other problem is that men see women as a threat, especially when they are sharing the top jobs with them. This has resulted in women being treated poorly when holding higher positions, and has led to some women leaders to leave those jobs for high level roles in more gender-neutral companies.

Perceiving women as a threat is also believed to cause male managers to “unconsciously” fail to promote women. Men choose to recruit individuals who are ‘like them’. Men prefer to hire other men.

Public Sector Changes

Furthermore, an Australian Defence Force chief has recognised that the public sector has failed to acknowledge that women are intelligent – and powerful. Because of this, women have left their roles in the public sector to pursue senior opportunities that may be more readily available in the private sector – though based on the Ernst & Young report, those positions are not easy to come by.

Since the Ernst & Young report was released, there have been reports of women gaining confidence to speak up about gender-bias in male-dominated workplaces, especially those in the public sector. While some places of work have taken steps to be more inclusive of women, and recognise the discrimination that takes place in the workforce, others have not been as proactive.

For example, in November, six members of the Australian Army were involved in a scandal involving the distribution of emails that contained explicit videos that were demeaning to women. Many of the men involved held senior positions, and they lost those positions as a result.

Positive stories about women in higher-powered roles are circulating. Kelly Haywood was named Telstra’s Young Business Woman of the Year. Kelly joined the Royal Australian Navy as a sailor at age 18, and she stated she has had a positive experience with other Navy members who have been like “brothers” to her and have been supportive of her promotions through the Navy, including becoming a Lieutenant Commander and head of department of HMAS Toowoomba. She also heads the Navy’s logistical operations and manages a multi-million dollar Anti Ship Missile Defence Project.

Kelly has been pleased with the quick action officials have taken to combat discrimination in the workplace. She feels more women are standing up for themselves when they are victims of bias, and she also believes that leaders’ willingness to deal with discrimination has given women the confidence to speak up about bias issues.

Many corporations and other places of work have made great strides in battling the gender discrimination, but work still needs to be done. Discrimination is not just present when it comes to hiring for top jobs. It is pervasive in wages and salaries as well. There is a gender pay gap of around 17.5 per cent, which Women’s Agenda called “concerning.”

Although there is no one single solution to solving the gender discrimination problem, it helps that some major corporations have begun to implement policies that are more welcoming and accommodating to women. Acknowledging that gender bias in the workplace exists, and implementing changes to prevent it, are the first steps to making real progress.