Last week, I received my first negative email since starting my business. I knew it would happen at some point as running a business in the diversity and gender space can often polarise people. However I was surprised to receive it from someone I know.
Firstly, some context.
Launching a women’s only recruitment service came from listening to the market that recruiters/agencies were not putting enough women on to their shortlists. That, coupled with ‘subconscious bias’ from hiring managers in choosing the male applicants on the list, resulted in much talk of diversity but not much in the way of results.
My own path wanting to spend my career assisting experienced women get positions with great companies stems from many years involved in recruitment and women’s charities. Professionally, I was tired of hearing excuses during the recruitment of leadership and technical roles that the women candidates ‘didn’t exist’ or ‘are too hard to find’, so I put my money where my mouth is and launched Executive Women Shortlists. To clarify the business raison d’etre, one of the main services is the supply of additional senior women to add to a company’s existing pool of applicants, meaning men do not need to be excluded from the opportunity.
Not only is it good for collaboration and idea generation to have a more inclusive management team but also companies that have higher female representation at the senior levels of business outperform those that don’t by 34% according to McKinsey Global research. So, whether like me, you are passionate about getting more capable women into chief executive vacancies on the ASX 200 (currently we only have 3.5%) or whether you are simply interested in improving company financial results, the focus on hiring more women remains the solution.
We have been overwhelmed by the hundreds of men and women showing their support in our networks and on LinkedIn. It is proof that if you perform the work you love, the success will follow. Having said that, you can imagine my disappointment when an old colleague cum senior human resource’s advisor for one of Australia’s largest companies (let’s call them ABC Retail) sent me the below in response to my request to talk to him about the Executive Women Shortlists:
Absolutely no way!
It seems like discrimination as far as I / ABC Retail are concerned.
Would suggest you think your approach through before approaching male contacts?
Balance vs. mission?
Senior HR Advisor’
(Let’s call him Clarry to protect his privacy)
I would like to respond openly to you Clarry as I feel you raised some very important points about why, despite many positive signs, the number of women in leadership roles in Australia has not increased significantly in the past ten years:
• ‘ It seems like discrimination.’
Well yes Clarry, good discerning eye there. It seems like discrimination because it is. Hence why we have gone through the legal processes that (in recognition of the grave lack of representation of women at senior levels of business) have allowed us to be able to do so. At least I am happy to call it out for what it is (positive discrimination) as opposed to your preferred recruitment method of consistently hiring white man after white man and calling it ‘merit.’ Always a fascinating topic ‘merit’ – a senior female candidate informed me today that roles should be filed on ‘merit.’ My response was ‘of course they should’ but what ‘merit’ doesn’t take into account is the disadvantages women have had in getting to the same level as their male counterparts. Challenges from intrinsic i.e. being less likely to put their hand up for promotion to the extrinsic i.e. being paid less thereby making them more likely to take on the role of the primary carer. According to Deaux & Emswiller success is more frequently attributed to “skill” for males and “luck” for females, even when the evaluators are presented with evidence of equal success for both genders.
• Would suggest you think your approach through before approaching male contacts?
So who exactly do you think my target client base is? Just the 3.5% women CEO’s of the ASX 200? Would it not make sense that the remaining 96.5% male CEO’s championing gender diversity in their organisations, including your Group CEO, may also be interested? Some of Australia’s biggest advocates of more women in leadership (or as I affectionately call them, feminists) are Mike Smith, David Thodey, Andrew Stevens, Gordon Cairns and Grant O’Brien. So no, I don’t think I should rethink my approach to male contacts. Instead it would be more pertinent for me to rethink my approach before interacting with the uniformed.
• It seems like discrimination as far as I/ ABC Retail are concerned.
Your chairman has openly stated that women make up half the population and should therefore have similar representation on boards.
Your company has a public mission to see more women achieve leadership positions and see gender diversity as a means to improve innovation.
Meanwhile, your CEO has also spoken publicly on the matter, saying he’s passionate, committed and serious about seeing more female executives on his team.
So, no Clarry, you don’t represent ABC Retail at all. What you represent is ignorance and archaic patriarchy. The fact you are claiming to represent the management of ABC Retail has as much weight as me claiming to represent my local ABC Retail. Just because I spend a lot of time in the building doesn’t mean I have any idea of what is going on.
This is truly the crux of the issue, Australian Business leaders come together and devise strategy to increase the amount of women in leadership but the message dosen’t trickle down and the environments at the ground level remain hostile to female participation.
• Balance vs. mission? I am little confused here. Our mission is to facilitate talented women in to Executive roles where they are under represented. I think you will find that is called balance.
Finally Clarry, I’m sure you and your team would have had a laugh at your unnecessarily impolite email to me. However I take courage knowing that popular opinion will have the laugh last. You see, the Australian business community, men and women everywhere, are working towards a more inclusive and productive Australian workforce. You can move with the times or you can go out of your way to hold it back. I know which side I would rather be on.