My confession (and my pledge) this International Women’s Day…

I have a confession to make. Many years ago, when I was seeking a promotion, I lied to my boss.

It was true that I had all the necessary skills and experience for the role. Every word of my CV was accurate and correct. So why did I feel the need to fib?

Because I was a woman of child-bearing age.

My fear was that I could miss out on the promotion if my boss thought I was going to have children. So I lied and told him that I had no plans for a family.

I secured the role and was pretty successful. I was happy. My team was happy. And so was my boss.

Later, when I fell pregnant, my boss turned out to be completely supportive. I went on maternity leave – not once but twice – and I returned to work each time to pick up where I left off. So I now know that I needn’t have lied in the first place. Having children has not held my career back at all.

But, as we celebrate International Women’s Day this month, the memory of that little white lie has been bugging me. How many other working women have felt compelled to do as I did? And how few men have ever felt the need to do so?

RCSA President Sinead Hourigan

Same problem. Different perspectives.

In my current job, I’m privileged to talk with business owners and senior executives every day. All of them acknowledge that women are under-represented in positions of leadership. All of them want to do something to address that.

But progress remains slow. In 2017, the number of senior female leaders in the ASX 200 fell to 19, from 24 the year prior.

I think the crux of the problem is that, while we all want to achieve change, we are coming at it from very, very different perspectives.

This was illustrated perfectly when EY surveyed business leaders about the reasons why women miss out on promotion. Almost half the surveyed men (43%) said the biggest barrier was a shortage of female candidates. Yet only 7% of women perceived this as an issue.

Almost half of men (44%) said that raising a family was the top barrier to greater female representation at a leadership level. But less than a quarter (24%) of women agreed.

Unless we can form a shared view about what the actual problems are, we won’t be solving the right problems.

My answer is: Yes

The theme for International Women’s Day 2018 is #PressForProgress. It’s about everyone stepping up and playing their part to achieve gender parity.

As an employer, I feel like I am already gender-blind when it comes to supporting people in my organisation. Nonetheless, I am making a pledge to reaffirm that:

I will assume the answer is “Yes”.

If we have a breakfast event at 7.30am on a Wednesday morning, I won’t assume that working parents can’t make it. I will invite them and let them decide whether they can manoeuvre their family circumstances to allow them to attend. Until I have asked the question, I will assume the answer is “Yes”.

If we have a job opportunity that requires frequent travel, I won’t assume that working parents are unable to do the job. Until I have asked the question, I will assume the answer is “Yes”.

Whatever the opportunity may be – wherever and whenever that opportunity may be – until I have asked the question, I will assume the answer is “Yes”.

In doing so, I will reinforce the fact that no woman in my team should ever feel the need to conceal their plans to raise a family. It’s time to break that invisible barrier to female participation in the workforce.

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