Wendy McCarthy's Comment: What do women have to do to make it?

by 14 Nov 2006

I refer to comments in Wendy McCarthy’s letter to the editor, ‘What do women have to do to make it?’ (Issue 115, 17 October 2006, p3).

I am so sick of hearing this! I have heard it for years and can no longer hold my tongue. We have had it thrust down our collective throats for so long that it’s gone from an observation to a mantra!

The essential elements to answering this question come down to only two: choice and opportunity, and invariably they seem to be interrelated. I do not believe there is a divine right, as some may opine. Indeed, feminism of the 70’s was about choice and opportunity, but equal opportunity does not mean equal numbers or equal representation.

Many women are now “liberated” to choose their preferred mix of career and family. Statistically this has not equated to more women in the boardrooms. So what?

A seat on the Board of any company of substance is by its nature restricted to only a tiny fragment of the human population, and the nature of shareholders is that they require a return on their investment at least greater than you can get from a bank. For most companies, this requires directors to be “on”, “driven” and “available” almost all of the time; enormous personal sacrifice, lots of time away from family and to a greater or lesser degree, a life that is not really your own.

Anyone who wants this is a special person, and I make no comment about whether this is good or bad. What do women have to do to make it? Do the same. But don’t expect any sympathy from me if it comes down to a choice between work and family. The family has to make that choice. It’s a family decision. It’s your choice. Is this right? Is this good? Possibly the stuff of a great debate but it is today’s reality.

Any business that disregards or disrespects 50 per cent of the brainpower of this nation is stupid to say the least, so I find it hard to believe that not to appoint a woman to a board position on the basis of sex is a smart thing to do either by an intelligent individual or corporation.

Change society by all means. Change the expectations of families. Change the nature of business. All this is possible. But one thing I know for a fact is …you can’t have it all!

David Johnston, chief human resources officer, Metcash Trading Limited Australasia

Placing a value on diversity

Regarding your article, ‘Placing a value on diversity’(Human Resources, Issue 115, 17 October 2006, p14): globalisation, meritocracy, macro-economic issues, plus a new wave of skill shortages have clearly put diversity on corporate agendas.

To be at the forefront of competitiveness, companies have to truly understand the diversity of cultures with which they do business (including race, custom, religion, gender and generations) and the variety of ways people work (communication, world views, negotiation and relationship to status and time) if they are to be successful in the global arena.

Demography is destiny. Emerging growth markets cannot be ignored. Strategies to build a workforce as broad and as diversified as Australia’s broader marketplace are being developed by those corporations that understand what implications these trends will have on their future client base and their future employee profile.

Innovation and collaboration are high on CEO agendas. Diversity is all about connecting with people. Solid research is emerging about the link between diversity and creative thinking, supporting the view that a varied group of people will outperform a homogeneous group in tasks of creative thinking. It means diversity in the broadest sense, including diversity of thinking, style and experiences.

Below the surface, there may be a bias that creates non-inclusive and alienating environments that are often so subtle, even the person themselves cannot articulate why they feel there is unfairness. The caution for executives is that it is human nature to make distinctions, and in reality, the majority group normalises its power to the point that it can no longer see its advantage and privilege. This group does believe there is a meritocracy while others who are in the minority may not.

The solution starts with the decision makers. When the executive group signals that diversity is a strategic goal, it makes a strong impact.

Driven by the benefits of new business opportunities and the need to create distinctive corporate capability, they actively craft the business case for a truly diverse entity and have metrics in place that hold leaders at all levels accountable.

If corporations are to accept their part to create and value a diverse workforce, there needs to be real commitment and constructive action. However, the responsibility is more than a moral or social decision. It is a decision that is imperative for business and the economy.

Dianne Jacobs, head of diversity, Goldman Sachs JBWere