Women don’t have to support other women, but plenty just do
Readers talk back
Must reads site wide
There is no set obligation to give back. No pre-requisite for obtaining key leadership positions that says women should help all those other women travelling up the pipeline behind them.
But giving back is something that, at least in some corners of corporate Australia, appears to be happening regardless.
When it comes to boards, I hear so many stories of influential women going out of their way to recommend other women for positions as they come up. I know of one corporate director who will deliberately always offer at least five female names when asked by a recruiter, no matter what the role. She does this because she knows there's more than enough female talent available, but women still have problems cracking through existing structures and networks to land board positions.
Meanwhile, we all know of women who are involved, or keen to get involved, in mentoring programs, and plenty of us have experienced the direct hand of support from women higher up the corporate ladder than ourselves.
No female leader should have to assist women, but some women simply see it as an important aspect of their leadership duties.
The Australian Financial Review's 2012 100 Women of Influence showed the depth of talent available, and the determination by those at the top to promote change in the future. Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, was named the overall winner.
Another one of the 100 women named was Sharon Cook, the managing partner of law firm Henry Davis York "I believe I am in a unique position," she said in a statement following the announcement, "One that brings responsibility to be a champion of women across the legal profession."
That unique situation's one that's pretty extraordinary in private practice. Cook is the only female managing partner at one of Australia's top 30 law firms. She was the firm's first part-time partner in 1997 and became the first female to take the helm of a major firm – during a particularly turbulent time for the legal sector. Since she was appointed in 2008, she's moved from being a role model for women for marking a significant first, to being a strong advocate for advancing women in the profession. "Women have to support each other in the same way men have supported each other for centuries," Cook said in a recent speech.
Julia Gillard's now making a stand of her own as the first female Prime Minister of Australia and one of only a handful of female heads of state globally. Part of the reason Gillard's 15-minute speech on sexism resonated with so many women around the world was because she was speaking up on an issue plenty of us have experienced but have perhaps lacked the confidence – or indeed the power – to tell it like it really is. Gillard was taking a stand.
Yes, women shouldn't have to support other women. But the reality is that the best leaders know that if they really want to support their industries and professions, then supporting the women within them is essential.
As Diversity Council of Australia CEO Nareen Young said on taking out top honours in the diversity category at the AFR awards. "Leveraging diverse talent is no longer a 'nice to have' – the changing nature of the workplace and community means it is a serious business consideration for the workplaces of the future."
Diversity's a must-have. Great leaders – men and women – know this. They'll support women in the pipeline behind them simply because it's their job to do so.
What examples have you heard, or experienced, of powerful women giving back? Let us know below.