What blocks female careers?

In their own words - Women in leadership

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Lindley Edwards


You don’t have to be a part of the executive team or a CEO or a director to make incredible changes, we can all make changes for the better from where we stand.

1. What is your current position and how long have you been in the role?

I am the Group CEO of AFG Venture Group. We do mergers, acquisitions, divestments, fund raising, licensing, joint ventures and strategic financial work. We have offices in India, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. We are bridging multiple cultures, multiple wisdom systems and multiple time zones. Flexibility, open mindedness and the ability to deal with complexity, ambiguity and to find connection rather than difference is critical.

Looking back, my key career dot points are I got started with a job in a bank, I went to University as a mature age student and at 26 was headhunted into Macquarie Bank. I then went to Citibank and ran a division that was bringing Asian investors into Australia. After this I set up my own business Venture Group that ended up merging with AFG.

2. Do you think that women ‘play it safe’ and don’t take risks in regard to their careers?

Women who have their own businesses usually have a higher success rate than men, (research backs this up) but the majority don’t go onto to be big businesses - they stay small. There are circumstances to contain the size of a business but I feel more women should be confident in their ability to be able to create larger enterprises. You don’t have to go out and risk the world but there are times when you can risk more and should.

My view is we shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes. The idea is to make as many mistakes as you can but make them early and quickly so they can be treated as part of the process and in an iterative way. We need to be able to say that this hasn’t worked, here are the reasons why and then move on.

3. Have you faced obstacles during your career?

Not really. My career has been so unorthodox. I have a view that if a road is blocked, then there must be another way around – another way to get there. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Every wall is a door”. I believe this and the difficulty is only the capacity to see the door so we can walk through it.

You don’t have to be a part of the executive team or a CEO or a director to make incredible changes, we can all make changes for the better from where we stand. But that is a decision that we all have to make – will I be part of the solution or continue to be part of the unsatisfactory status quo. If you’ve reached a point where you really feel blocked, and feel that you are not being appreciated or valued, then I think it’s time to move organisations or roles.

4. Have you had mentors and role models who have been part of your journey?

In regard to mentors, I always look for people older than me who I believe in and who I like and respect. I particularly am attracted to older people who are not only leaders in their field but who also have a sense of humour, who are joyful and who have a spring in their step. There have been and still are incredible women creating incredible change in the Australian landscape – so we can all add to that work. There’s incredible generosity of spirit that mentoring requires and if we have received the benefit of mentoring I feel we must ‘pay it forward’.

5. How can women overcome the barriers they may face in their careers?

One of the things I really support is to reveal who you are. When you reveal who you are, people will start to understand you and you can more easily play to your strengths. There is a cookie cutter version of what it is you do – accountant, banker, lawyer – whatever you are – and then there’s your version – and if you can, I recommend sticking to your version. I agree with Oscar Wilde “Be yourself, everybody else is already taken”.

I believe we need to be cognisant of our language – the stories we tell ourselves and tell others about us. My observation is that sometimes the language we use to tell our stories is not very empowering. I think we need to be quite powerful in saying I’m here, this is who I am, this is what I do and you are lucky to have me working for you.

6. What is your definition of success?

My definition of success is a lot broader than work; it means to have a place where you feel at home in the world, where you feel connected, where you know this is where you belong, where you are making a difference, where you are loved. So it’s not about what I achieve, it’s actually about who I am and my connectedness.

What do you think Australian organisations should be doing to better attract, retain and promote women?

A lot of it is just acknowledging the importance of diversity because to me diversity is beyond the male/female. Organisations must embrace diversity as our stakeholders that we are serving, the customers that we are working with, the shareholders that we are representing, are the same as the general population. What we have to do is make sure that our internal structures are mirroring society.

The situation where organisations are serving a market but are not consuming or behaving like that market is astounding to me. We need to be putting diverse people from the market around the boardroom table in order for the organisation to be effective and successful.

7. Do you have a view on gender targets and quotas?

I agree with it as an interim solution. My view is if you want to create a change, this is an effective temporary change mechanism to get more female voices around the table. We need to create change and targets and quotas are a good mechanism as any to create that change, so let’s just do it and see what happens.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.

Julie McKay - Women in Leadership


Jen Dalitz - Women in Leadership

No one is intentionally excluding women from corporate leadership positions. Yet, a combination of corporate and societal legacy issues continues to hold women back:

Unconscious bias

The evidence continues to mount for the power and pervasive nature of unconscious bias, in both men and women. In a 2012 Yale University study3, researchers asked 127 scientists at six universities to review identical applications for a lab manager position – with the resumes randomly assigned male or female names.

The researchers found that staff consistently judged male candidates to be more competent and deserving of an extra $4,000 pay on average. They were also more willing to provide male applicants with mentoring and were more likely to hire them.

Notably, women in the study were just as likely as men to make these judgements – even scientists, those guardians of objectivity, responded no better than control groups.

And this isn’t just an issue for men: women themselves are contributing to the problem through their own use of language. Julie McKay admits that, ten years ago, she never used the word ‘ambitious’ in relation to either her own, or another woman’s career. Now, she deliberately uses the term as much as she can to make the point that it’s OK for women to be ambitious.

Lindley Edwards, the Group CEO of AFG Venture Group, believes women need to be more aware of the words they are using. “Sometimes, the language we use to tell our stories is not very empowering. I think we need to be quite powerful in saying: I’m here, this is who I am, this is what I do and you are lucky to have me working for you.”

To break the power of unconscious bias, we need to take this issue seriously:

  • Do we know the effect unconscious bias has on our recruitment and promotional processes?
  • Do we need to provide unconscious bias awareness programs for all employees – especially people managers?
  • Are our leaders aware of the impact that unconscious bias has on decisions made. Are our leaders actively working to combat its effect – both in themselves and also calling out bad behaviour in their colleagues?

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Rigid work hours

Julie McKay believes one of the biggest barriers for women is the fundamental way society is structured. “Our work and education systems are still based on the stereotypical family, with a primary worker and a primary care giver. This is why school and work hours don’t match up.”

The misalignment of school and work puts terrible pressure on dual-income families. Under the current system, primary parents race to meet after-school care pick up times, battling deadlines and traffic. Everyone gets home exhausted, only to face an increasing load of parentally-supervised homework. Could work and school hours be more aligned? As Julie McKay says: “We have to accept that people are whole – part work, part family and friends, part community – we need to link up our home, work and community lives.”

Jen Dalitz believes corporate workplace flexibility remains a one-way street. “The employer demands flexibility of the employee: to work back late or come in early; to travel for business needs; to fit their annual leave around the company’s peak periods; to perform additional responsibilities or higher duties to cover for colleagues when they’re on leave.”

But companies are yet to find a successful way of supporting their employees in managing the conflicting demands of work, community responsibilities and family.

It’s time for Australia to stop setting their employees up for failure and review our systems to reflect the reality of dual-income and multi-responsibility families.

  • Why can’t work be output based, enabling employees to determine when and where they get the job done?
  • Is all our office-based work really location-dependent?
  • Can organisations become more familiar with job design concepts to assess how work can be performed to optimise the outcomes both for the organisation and the employee?
  • Why can’t we align school and work hours?

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Unaffordable and inaccessible childcare

According to the Economic Intelligence Unit, in 2012 Australia ranked 32nd in the world for accessible childcare and 18th for affordability, below New Zealand, the Czech Republic, the US and Chile. Childcare is so expensive that, for parents on lower incomes, it’s not worth the second income earner going out to work. Because of our gendered approach to family responsibilities, women are often the second income earners in many families. As a result, many women are locked out of the workforce completely or only get a very low percentage of their take-home pay.

It seems that Australia is failing to provide this most basic of services, while other countries are forging ahead. Our childcare system is not set up to deal with a system where the norm is for both parents to be working.

According to the Worldwide Index, Germany is a case in point. In Germany, 52% of the public sector workforce is female. However, only 14.5% of them are in leadership roles. Also, a 2012 OECD report showed that German women also get paid 23% less than their male counterparts. These inequities are attributed to two factors: first, Germany does not have employment quotas; and second, only 18% of German children under the age of two have access to childcare.

While Australia does better than Germany on the issue of childcare, we still have a long way to go compared with other countries.

As a country, we need to ask ourselves:

  • Why is Australia continuing to slide down the global childcare rankings?
  • Why is the issue of childcare still gendered? Why are men not being involved in the discussion?
  • What does best practice look like? Which countries can we learn from?
  • Why isn’t this a national priority?

As long as we remain stuck in a time warp of antiquated gender roles, the productivity of the nation will continue to fall. If more men took time off work as primary care givers, would this lead to more rapid change?

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3Research intelligence — Gender bias hides, even in open minds, The Times Higher Education, 8 November 2012