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Gender equity - let's cut the rhetoric and put some solutions in place already!

August 9, 2015

OK so today is a bit of a rant and not so many Practical HR Solutions, as the name of the blog implies, but I’m angry and a bit fed up with reading about quotas or not quotas and not seeing any real strategies or solutions come to light.

 

I was at a sporting association lunch a few weeks ago and the only woman on a table with seven men and overheard a conversation which made me wonder if I had slipped back in time.  I’m not sure  if the men having this conversation forgot I was sitting there or just didn’t give a damn but these were very senior men in their industry talking about how they get a particular woman to be the MC of their functions as “she’s pretty good and also very easy on the eye”  Um what?  Really did you just say that out loud and in front of a woman?  Wow yes apparently they did and all had a good chuckle about it as well.

 

So how many other senior leaders are thinking and talking like this? How are we ever going to have gender equity if these attitudes are still around in 2015 and still spoken aloud?  I have read with interest a number of debates on LinkedIn about quotas for women on Boards and many women commenting that they would quit if they found out they were appointed through a quota system and it must be merit all the way.  Great in theory but it isn’t really working out too well at the moment is it?

 

American sociologist, Michael Kimmel makes some great points about entitlement and privilege in this article by Fiona Smith in the Australian Financial Review.


He says that it is incontestable that men and white people have privilege but “this is not something you chose, this is not a bad thing. You are not a bad person because you are white or male. You simply live in a world where this gives you a leg up.”
He talks about how in workshops he tries to expose that sense of entitlement to get participants to talk about what it means to be a man and how men actually benefit from gender equality. He says “the more gender equal we are in our relationships, the happier men are”.

We need more men to understand this and become great leaders in diversity and champions of change.

 

Georgina Dent, editor of Women’s Agenda talks about quotas in her July 13 editorial and how we should just get on with it.  I love the last line and reckon it’s pretty hard to argue that point.

 

“I can’t tell you how many events, panel discussions, interviews and conversations I have been privy to, which have turned to the Important Topic Of Why Quotas are Very Bad and Very Dangerous. These discussions are almost always preceded by, or followed up with, an in-depth and sincere declaration about the importance of diversity and gender equality.
Am I the only one who struggles to reconcile these arguments? Am I alone in finding the distinction between quotas or targets or stretch goals increasingly futile?
To me, it seems straightforward.
You either support gender balance or you don’t. And, if you support gender balance, then surely you support action to achieve it?”

 

If we have boards full of men who are thinking like the guys I mentioned before and an attitude that women should only be selected on merit, how do we get women on boards, get them into senior leadership positions, just get them taken seriously?  Who are the CEO’s leading the boards to consider diversity and gender equity? Step up now please!

 

Dr Lisa A Williams is a social psychologist and in her 30 July article in Women’s Agenda writes about how even merit has its flaws and is subject to bias.

 

“We know those judging merit are subject to making biased decisions – whether they intend to or not. But merit in and of itself can also be biased.
If we are to evaluate two politicians on their “merit”, chances are a man will outperform a woman – even if the two have similar abilities for the role. Until we redress issues of opportunity, merit-based evaluations will remain problematic.”

 

There is no silver bullet here. According to some, quotas are a problem but apparently so is merit. If we all want gender equity, and we do right?, then let’s do whatever it takes.

 

I’m for quotas – there are women who may need to be brave and lead the charge and be the first woman on a board but there are plenty of us around willing to step up. We can then mentor other women to lead the way. There are senior men who need to be brave and lead the charge and appoint women to boards, and coach and mentor along the way. When it all boils down we’re all for the same thing – building our businesses to be the best they can so what are we all waiting for?

 

 

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