By Seema Pun, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program
When a patient stumbles into a doctor’s office clutching his chest and writhing in pain, you don’t give him a panadol and send him on his merry way. Setting quotas for women is akin to treating the symptom instead of addressing the problem.
Recent data from the Australian Institute of Company Directors shows women make up 17% of directors on the boards of ASX 200 companies and only 3% of board chairs and CEOs. Today, the proportion of women and men with graduate qualifications are equal, yet the representation of women in senior leadership positions in this country continues to be unacceptably low. However, I’m not convinced that simply tapping women on the shoulder and offering directorship positions is going to solve the gender diversity issue.
A simple statistical push is not enough. It doesn’t help support women where the environment is not conducive to nurture their strengths and differences. It doesn’t help change mindsets, biases, cultures, or create opportunities to question and explore new ways. Anyone who thinks otherwise is trying to stick a Band-Aid to a gaping wound.
If not enough women are applying for the top job, organisations should be asking if they are doing enough to remove gender barriers or cultivating the right culture that attracts and supports women. Instead of making it a ‘women’s issue’, the focus should be about rebalancing organisations to represent today’s workforce and today’s market. These organisations need to seek talent far and wide instead of fishing from the same pond. They need to promote professional development of women and have flexible working arrangements. Organisations should be addressing these issues and making a concerted effort to bring about real and meaningful change.
If we are to make progress in gender equality in our boardrooms and senior leadership positions, a quick fix is nothing more than demeaning gender stereotyping. In the same way our patient with chest pain will be examined, investigated and receive appropriate treatment, we should be looking deeply at the fundamentals of gender inequality and treating the illness, not the symptoms.