Are women making progress towards gender equality?

Yes – but there’s still a long way to go.

If there’s one theme that kept bubbling to the surface at the fourth Women on Boards conference in Sydney, Australia, it was this: while progress has been made in the area of gender equality in business, there’s still a long way to go.

“Have we made progress?” asks Commonwealth Bank of Australia diversity manager Kathy Finckh. “Yes, I think we have. Are we there yet? No, I don’t think we are.”
Patti Bellinger speaks at the fourth annual Women on  Boards conference. | Photo: Adrien Bisson

Patti Bellinger speaks at the fourth annual Women on

Boards conference | Photo: Adrien Bisson

Harvard’s Patricia Bellinger, who ran BP’s diversity program in London, notes that targets can be an effective tool to improve an organisation’s gender diversity. “Targets become a part of [the company’s] performance contracts,” she says. 

If, for example, 40 per cent of a company's potential candidates are women, “we then set targets of 35 to 40 per cent getting promotions,” says Bellinger.
 
Related article: How do we increase women's workplace participation?
 
In the past, she notes, women were often identified as “not quite ready” for promotion.

What BP found, according to Bellinger, was that often women were deemed “not ready” in part because of their different leadership styles. 

“Women lead in different ways,” says Bellinger. “We don’t tend to demonstrate capability or seniority through verbal or physical swagger. Women rarely feel the need to speak the most at a meeting to make their point.”

It is these differences, she says, that often lead to the dismissal of women as potential leaders.

"Women rarely feel the need to speak the most at a meeting to make their point." – Patricia Bellinger
“I’m not suggesting all men or all women behave in a certain way, but there are fundamental differences in the way men and women communicate and lead.”

Bellinger suggests that an organisation’s ability to recognise these differences can impact not only its diversity success rate, but in turn its business success rate. Bellinger also notes that successful diversity doesn’t lie solely in promoting women; success is about a balanced leadership model and buy-in from men as well. 

“If the men are not at the table, it’s not going to go anywhere.”

According to Ruth Medd, executive chair of Women on Boards, it is the “number of women directors [within organisations that] is the leading indicator for diversity inside organisations.”

“I think women may change the conversation in the boardroom,” adds Bellinger. 

“We can’t be excluded because those boards cannot be serving their shareholders properly if half the population is excluded – it’s a simple as that.”

What she said:

  •  “We do need to remember to reach a modest 30 per cent [gender balance on the ASX]. We do need 90 appointments each year. I think we will get there. “ – Claire Braund
  • “Quotas may be the only way to get to parity.” – Patricia Bellinger
  • “People think merits and targets are mutually exclusive. I find it quite persuasive explaining that they’re very much on the same continuum. Targets increase the likelihood of merits.” – Claire Braund
  • “Voting with your feet is very powerful. On an individual basis, how long are you going to bang your head against the wall? You have to say, ‘Where is my career most likely to thrive?’ I would never have gone to BP if there was not true conviction – as I saw it – at the top of that firm at the time. “ – Patricia Bellinger
  • “Let’s make sure that we are teaching children that women are more than wives, girlfriends and princesses, but rather can be perfect, effective board directors and anything else they choose.” – Patricia Bellinger

INTHEBLACK was the media partner of the fourth Women on Boards conference.

July 2020
July 2020

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