It’s a boy’s club – back off!

This was the advice given by a team of senior men to a woman at a financial services firm who was trying to make some changes to the 'business as usual' approach her colleagues seemed to enjoy. Apparently change was not on the agenda. The anecdote was recounted to the 32 women taking part in the 2017 WOB Next Generation of Corporate Female Leaders program in Sydney this week. Heads nodded.
Another participant told of an interview with a senior female Non-Executive Director serving on a number of ASX200 boards, who recounted that despite achieving the board roles, she still fought to be heard when she put forward a suggestion for the board’s consideration. This was evidenced by the fact that when a male board member ventured the idea it was acclaimed as if they had not heard it before. How often have we heard this 'whitewashing' of women's voices in meetings.

Interestingly the notions of being heard, exercising influence and the behaviours that underpin these was the focus of a large part of the middle session of the Next Gen program. Participants hear how to get a turn to speak in meetings, influence key stakeholders, articulate their business case and be better and more authentic presenters. All sound and potentially work (if not life) changing advice. All delivered with the knowledge that in 'working on women' we are equipping them to deal with, gain from and possibly influence the system.

However, what became very clear is that so much of value that people have to contribute is being missed by businesses, often due to the cultural dominance of white men in many companies. This is not a surprise, but many of us had hoped that by 2017 we might be a little further along the gender equity bell curve. Which leads us to ask - do we need quotas to move things along? David Gonski doesn't think so but Carol Schwartz does. It's a long-standing debate. My view was summed up in an article I wrote earlier this year, when Tony Abbott invoked the issue once again. 
The release earlier this month of the AICD’s most recent gender diversity report indicates that their PR campaign to increase female representation on ASX 200 boards to achieve 30% is far from over. which again is hardly surprising as, to realise this modest target, well-qualified and credentialled men are going to have to get off boards for equally qualifed and credentialled women to get a gig. 

Is this likely to happen? Possibly not in my working lifetime.
But I do know one thing. Backing off to allow the boy's club - or any other club - to continue business as usual is not an option we at WOB plan to entertain. So we will continue to work resolutely, politely and occasionally cheekily to achieve gender balance on our boards and in leadership roles.

Enjoy the weekend
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