Sisters are undoing it for themselves.
While we’ve all been sipping champagne at breakfast, lunches and dinners for the last week, raising our glasses to celebrate International Women’s Day, deep down, as we stare across the reheated bread rolls, we see the Hermes silk scarf and Tom Ford lenses of the typical businesswomen as our biggest threat to gaining the top job, not the Zegna suit of the business male.
Gender equality has hit the headlines since the Business Council of Australia said chief executives should sit unconscious bias tests and big companies should have a 50-50 split of males and females in senior roles in the next decade.
Then came the Male Champions of Change group, made up of the likes of ANZ chief Mike Smith and Qantas head honcho Alan Joyce all saying it’s not just their lot that will be hitting such targets but they’re going to make every company they deal with commit. There is only one female in the Australian government’s cabinet and the percentage of women on ASX 200 boards sits at 17.6 per cent.
In 2013, 37 women were appointed onto these boards, down from 41 in 2012 and 68 in 2011. It’s all well and good to put the gender debate out there and talk about it, but both sides of the gender divide need to be on board, not just the men.
When it comes to workplace equality, females are the worst.
While men raise their voices, and sometimes end up in fisticuffs with each other, women secretly plot to bring each other down over a long and slow process of psychological torment. It’s not because we genuinely think other women are incapable – rather, we see them as a threat.
There are so few senior positions we feel are open to women that we see fellow female colleagues as a speed hump in our progression to the top job. But no matter how much chest beating the male variety does it all comes down to the fillies.
Back-stabbers in the sisterhood
At the moment in the corporate world, the sisterhood are ripping off their Louboutins and stabbing their kind in the back. As a heel-wearer I am guilty of this trait and it’s not something I am proud of.
I’ve had it drummed into me from an early age: strive for the top; women can have it all. The problem is the idealistic picture of the corporate world my school teachers painted is far from reality. It’s not the men in the workplace I worry about – it’s the women.
Since 1985, women have been graduating from university at higher rates than men, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
We’re being churned out for the corporate world at rates that are outstripping the increase in senior positions. I, like many of my friends, professional females in their mid-twenties, am aware there are few females in top roles and therefore it doesn’t matter if the guy next to me is equal in his skill level, rather my biggest worry is if my online shopping counterpart and boyfriend-bagging colleague is in any way outdoing me.
Women don’t speak up for themselves and unfortunately are the first to put other women down.
Women are hard taskmasters and we pass that judgment on ourselves and other women.
We don’t give ourselves enough merit and while our male colleagues tell management what they can do right, women are more likely to tell them what they can do wrong.
Sitting in countless empowering women business lunches I usually shrink in fear as the rhetoric rings in my ears about how we need to stand up to men. But really I think we need to stand up to each other first.
According to a report by Chief Executive Women and Bain and Company, women do want to see other women being successful.
Research showed organisations with a critical mass of senior women have higher levels of advocacy amongst women – both as a place to work and as a place where women can progress to senior levels.
The impact that women at senior levels can have on the Australian economy is profound. We need more women at the top. But let’s not leave it to the men to give us a leg up – we all know some can struggle to find the dishwasher, let alone a ladder for us to climb. Instead of thinking there are only so many jobs for women, start seeing it as all jobs are for women.
Gender targets will never be achieved if those who they are aimed at helping cannot help themselves.
After all, there’s a lot to be said about safety in numbers.
Lucille Keen covers national news and politics for the Australian Financial Review, where this article was first published on Monday 10 March.