Debunking myths about women in Leadership

By Nancy Nguyen, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

2014_06_06-3 MBA Nancy Anita Omar (0486) 100%As a young child, I remember watching “Beyond 2000”, a show promising what the next millennium would offer from futuristic cars, to the newest and brightest inventions and ideas. It was a testament to the changing world around us, signifying “mans” advancement for the better.

Today, living in the millennium, we are surrounded by new contraptions, such as the Smartphone, but our single oldest ideals and perception about women and their role in society has not followed suit. Women and their role in the workplace still lags significantly, demonstrated by the ever increasing pay gap of 18.2%, where women only earn 82c for every $1 her male counterpart earns – the largest divide recorded in history. So how does this happen in a society that is supposed to be improving with the times and how can we change that? From these observations one might concede that there appears to be too much talk and not enough action.

The recent Leadership Re-Imagined panel discussion hosted by the University of Sydney Business School in partnership with the UN Women National Committee Australia, held at Doltone House, suggested a need for marked disruption not dissimilar to an analogy of “a nuclear bomb” to reset the embedded societal norms and unconscious bias blocking the advancement of women in leadership.

Something which struck me deep was an impactful address made by the Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Ms Belinda Hutchinson AM, who echoed how our society has placed successful women in a dilemma, with most being single, divorced or childless. A bleak outlook for many women who aspire to do something deep and meaningful in their career life.

Sadly, today myths still exist, examples including women being too emotional to lead, being poor networkers because they don’t drink beer or play golf, needing to look and behave like a man to advance and that really women just need to work longer, harder and do their time if they want to progress based on merit.  Julie McKay, Executive Director of UN Women National Committee Australia, reminded us the notion of “merit” is highly subjective and that an individual’s “deemed potential” from a 55yr old male executive is very different from that of a young aspiring female. Julie also reminded the forum that she has fortunately been able to progress her career because someone believed in her as opposed to proving merit, offering her life changing UN CEO position at the age of 23.

Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, stated that she would not give up her birth right to equality and will work to launch programs with top leaders throughout the nation including government, industry and community to engage discussion about unconscious bias endemic against women that is deeply rooted in society.

Lance Hockridge CEO of Aurizon, has taken a bold move mandating 30% representation of women in his workplace by 2019 to level the playing fields.

Surprise and fear quickly filled the room, as Julie McKay quoted “waiting for the black clouds of backlash to roll in”. It is without doubt that fighting for equality in the workplace will be an enormous challenge, one that all individuals need to believe and commit to if things are ever going to improve for future generations.

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