Spot the fake ‘female friendly’ organisation

by 17 Oct 2006

The job ad tells you the organisation is an EEO employer, the website tells you that its people are its greatest asset and waxes lyrical about the diversity and work and family programs, and the headhunter assures you that the business is a ‘highly progressive employer of choice’. But how do you really know? Is this employer really one that values women as highly as men, that will be gender-neutral in making development and promotion decisions, and one that has really developed a culture free of glass ceilings and mummy tracks? From my experience, there are useful clues that can indicate when not all is as it seems.

The career development program is explained in a glossy brochure full of photos of business-suited women, the competency framework is well established and career discussions are slated as part of the annual performance review.

However, when you ask about the process for making senior appointments and deciding development opportunities, there is much mumbling about ‘confidential discussions’among the existing executive and the importance of ‘a good match with the current team’. There is often an aim to have everyone singing from the same song sheet. This lack of transparency combined with a desire for uniformity usually indicates that it will be a tough assignment to breach the walls of the fortress.

The good news is that there is a dazzling array of award-winning family-friendly initiatives, with flexi-time, part-time work and leave without pay for child rearing. The bad news is that to take advantage of any of these policies indicates that you are not serious about your career and promptly takes you out of contention for promotion. Check how many of the senior women in the organisation have young children and have utilised the policies.

Find out who the heroes are in your organisation. Are the stories about Bill the workaholic who puts in endless hours and works countless weekends? Are they about Tom the larrikin who always wins over the clients by showing them the nightlife and scoring tickets to every football game in town? Are they about Geoff who is as tough as nails and whose results are so good everyone ignores the road kill in his wake? If so, heed the warning signals about the culture.

Do your due diligence, have a realistic look at how many women are currently in senior roles and look closely at the signs. If in doubt, keep looking. There are some wonderful employers out there who really will value you the way you deserve.

By Melanie O’Connor, managing director, The Academy Network

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