Boys club referrals limit female success

by HCA20 Dec 2012

Some 60% of professional Australian women believe they are locked out of advancing into executive roles because of a ‘boys club’ mentality.

The latest survey from Executive Women Australia (EWA) found women believe male-dominated referral networks are rife, and are the biggest barriers to future success.

“Usually because of the fact the other people in the [executive] roles are men, they are referring men,” EWA director Tara Cheesman commented. She added that executive positions became vacant every three years on average, and leaders tend to look internally or to their networks to fill roles. “When the boss comes and says 'Do you know somebody great for this job?' they think 'If I can do this job, he can do it. If I get along with this person, he will fit in at work too',” Cheesman said.

The EWA director didn’t believe it’s a case of men deliberately sidelining women – rather men with male friends in the same field frequently structure their relationship around helping each other with their careers. “A lot of men don't see themselves as the person who's going to help their female friends in their career,” she said.

According to the survey findings, which canvassed the opinions of 500 EWA members, women also believe men are better self-promoters than women, and that many ASX 500 employers haven't had female executives previously. Of ASX 500 companies, currently just one third have a female executive at board level.


  • by Neil Cockroft 20/12/2012 3:30:11 PM

    This is a valid issue, but is as much about unconscious bias as it is active exclusion of women by men. Men AND women like to hire or refer those they have worked closely with and/or know well - ie tried and trusted people. Not a bad talent strategy, but the 'mini-me' risks need to be understood and safeguarded against. I use exactly this scenario in my unconscious bias awarness-raising work. Even the strongest diversity champions can fall into the trap - including unintentionally.

  • by Renee Robson 3/01/2013 6:43:08 AM

    Well said Neil.
    Unfortunately the desire for a 'tried and true' candidate can sometimes mean the best person for the job can be overlooked. A busy manager or HR team can sometimes look to a quick solution to fill a personnel gap, while referrals are extremely valuable the inherent bias needs to be acknowledged by the hiring manager.

  • by Yvonne Walker 4/01/2013 2:53:55 PM

    Neil - great point - and this applies to diversity across a whole range of characteristics, not just gender.

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