More #Girlbosses please: How you can help shift gendered expectations at work


Prue analyses the sobering figures surrounding female leadership and shares her strategies highlighting how you can transform your organisation’s culture and commit to gender equality.

Growing up, girls are told they can become whatever kind of #Girlboss they want to be. But the data tells a very different story.

Just 24 of the Fortune 500 are led by women, and in Australia, women represent just 16.8% of CEO positions, 25.8% of women are board members and 30% are senior managers.

There have been many articles written about the double standards women must overcome to make it to the top, but this week there was one written by Jamie Manson that really caught our attention: “Hillary Clinton wants to be president, not your mother.” It started with a story revealing that at the Democratic National Convention, NY Times columnist David Brooks asked Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, about Clinton’s low poll numbers in the category of “likeability and trustworthiness.” Brooks went on to ask for an, “Anecdote or two…of her being nurturing, kind, surprising to the public image?” chuckling as he said the word “kind.” It’s certainly been a campaign filled with double standards, but we’re still curious as to whether any journalist, in any leadership campaign, has ever thought to ask for an anecdote about a male candidate’s capacity to be “nurturing” or “kind”.

As Manson so rightly said:

“By using such maternal adjectives, Brooks inadvertently revealed one of the key reasons, I believe, that so many still insist that Hillary is unlikable: she just doesn’t come across as a mother figure.”

Of course, the Clinton experience of being assessed according to what we expect from the traditional role of women is not the exception. The McKinsey 2016 Women at Work report “Women who negotiate for a promotion or compensation increase are 30% more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “bossy,” “too aggressive,” or “intimidating.” How can we address the gender pay gap if women are penalised for negotiating?

As a society we still expect women to conform to the traditional stereotype of “mother/carer,” yet continue to wonder why there aren’t more women in leadership roles and what we need to do to help women. Yet when they are in senior roles, we instantly wonder who is caring for their children and what sort of a mother could they be if they are performing such a demanding role? Failing to remember of course that children by and large have two parents, many even have 4 grandparents. Of course the flip side is that men are expected to conform to equally outdated stereotypes, with stigmas seeing men twice as likely to have a request for flexibility denied than women.

Back at home, this week I was at a Heads Over Heels event in Sydney, supporting female entrepreneurs. It was an especially powerful event, sponsored by Macquarie Group and Chief Executive Women. Towards the end of the evening, I found myself in conversation with 3 very senior female executives. And after a casual but intimate sharing about our families and how we make life work, the conversation moved to the US election, and the double standards women face.

One female executive of a large global consulting business confirmed our perceptions when she shared the feedback sought from her initial town hall meetings with staff. It was nothing short of disturbing, with many of the comments doing nothing but critique her appearance. “If she’s going to appear in that light, she should have her make-up professionally done.” A reminder of the unhelpful focus on Julia Gillard’s hair when she was in power. But this wasn’t a media performance, or even a presidential campaign – it was a meeting, in a hall.

How, then, can we start to shift the culture to remove the double standards that exist for women in the workplace?

Here are our 7 simple tips to transform your culture.

1. Raise awareness of the problem. Go beyond the business case and justice rationales by using specific examples of double standards in your workplace. If you’re struggling, look to the top – do you have a target for women in leadership, but no strategy of how to actually make that happen?

2. Create a vision for how you want it to be. 0ne that is capable of transforming the limiting beliefs of your staff.

3. Identify the key growth strategies you need to implement to overcome the limiting beliefs and move closer to your vision for gender equality.

4. Look at your pipeline and identify where it is that women become disproportionately represented to that of men and take action to address the perceptions of men and women in the lead up this shift, and understand the gendered expectations they have of themselves and the career paths ahead of them. Tip: it’s usually around the time men and women start a family, or in the 2 years prior, when they are assessing whether you would be a good employer to have a baby with.

5. Share tips about how to call out biases, so that you normalise the culture for addressing it, without fear of vilification. Unconscious bias training is only a helpful tool if people are then also provided with permission to call it out. The training we conducted when I was General Counsel at Corporate Express on workplace rights and wrongs was called Law of the Jungle, and was designed to empower our staff to call out inappropriate biases. And we knew it worked, because we would hear people saying “That’s not law of the jungle.”

6. Finally, before you critique a woman, ask yourself if you would ever use the same language about a man. Yep, we can’t recall any request for anecdotes of Turnbull being nurturing or kind. And of course, the same goes for a man. Before you question their request for flexibility to care for a child, ask whether you would have questioned it in the same way for a woman.

7. Empower women to speak alongside men in powerful settings. It’s time to share the stage, and proactively find a female successor, and set them up for success.

It’s time for the world to shift it’s gendered expectations so we have more #GirlBosses and more #BoyDads