Are women in business holding themselves back?

by Janie Smith27 May 2014
Women have the same career opportunities as men, but they’re not making the most of them – that’s what 60% of Australian businessmen think, according to a new survey.

The Australian Pulse of Women in Leadership survey, which looks at what Australian workers believe makes an effective leader and the role of women in the workplace, found that Aussie men also believed fewer women were moving into leadership roles because they had trouble juggling their work/life commitments, lack qualifications and were less ambitious.

While most men thought the workplace was a level playing field in terms of gender equality, the survey found that only 35% of women believed that had the same career opportunities as their male counterparts.

Karen Gately, leadership advisor and author of The People Manager’s Toolkit, told HC Online that the issue of equal workplace opportunity was complex.

She said she still came across a number of businesses where there were still unconscious biases operating which affected decision-making.

The value placed on traditionally masculine traits in business leadership could also play a part in fewer women moving into leadership roles.

“I think sometimes there’s an unconscious perception that women may not be tough enough, may not be driven enough. I think that’s part of the landscape. I also think that there are some women self-selecting out of senior roles because the old-fashioned way that we run businesses typically don’t suit their ability to balance work and family obligations.”

Research also shows that men tend to be better at selling themselves and putting themselves forward for promotion, said Gately.

“That can be a role women are playing in not really stepping forward and saying, ‘Hey, what about me?’ and getting on the radar.

“Absolutely there are some places where discrimination is playing a part and some cases where women are not stepping up.”

Gately said she had never personally felt held back or discriminated against in a professional sense because of her gender, but she had seen discrimination happen.

“I’ve never experienced a client not being willing to see female candidates. It’s potentially more in the selection process when the unconscious biases come in. Lack of flexibility, for example, in terms of work arrangements. It’s more common for female candidates to be asking for flexible terms and conditions.”

One area of the survey in which men and women agreed was that Australian businesses would benefit from having more women in leadership positions.

Survey co-author and business and diversity strategist Megan Dalla-Camina said that Australian businesses needed to embrace the concept of gender intelligence.

“[That] means understanding the unique qualities both men and women bring to the leadership table and collectively harnessing these for the greater good.”

Do you think men and women have the same career opportunities?

Related articles:
Sexism so subtle, we fail to notice it
Women in tech: The sexist culture blocking their progression


  • by Catherine Cahill 27/05/2014 11:44:21 AM

    In my experience working with senior executives and managers, they are less inclined to take a "punt" on a woman. That is, if there is a choice between a man and a woman, both of whom do not quite meet the criteria, the man will be given the opportunity.

    I have seen this again and again. The women who get promoted truly have to exceed everyone's expectations.

    Also, I have seen that many women are less inclined to take a risk on a role that is a stretch for them. So the bias does run both ways.

    I am generalising here - this is not the case all the time!

  • by Samantha Jepson 28/05/2014 12:26:15 PM

    I would rename this article '60% of Australian male businessmen demonstrate unconscious bias'! In my 15 years in HR working with leadership teams, only the really good leaders take the time to understand the career aspirations of all their team members. The rest make assumptions based upon lazy leadership and assumed knowledge. This study just proves that.

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