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Women leaders on the rise

Date published: Wednesday 4 July 2018

Category(ies): Comment


It was the end of Baptist Care Australia's diversity-themed annual conference and we had afternoon tea on our minds. As we gathered for our first ever Women's Leadership Forum, we were also thinking about gender equality and sharing stories about our leadership journeys.

In the last 12-18 months, three women leaders have taken on Board chair roles with Baptist Care Australia member organisations. Robina Bradley, Judith Carpenter and Julie Lawrie shared some of their leadership and life experiences at the forum, helping us to reflect on the opportunities and experiences of women in our own organisations.

Judith Carpenter is Board Chair of BaptistCare NSW & ACT, and her 25 years' work in human resources consulting has revealed the contrasting approaches of women and men in applying for leadership roles.

"Research has suggested, and I've definitely observed this too, that men will generally apply for a role when they meet 60% of the role's requirements, while women will only apply when they feel they meet 100% of the requirements," Judith said.

According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, this is generally not because women lack confidence or feel they couldn't do the job. Instead, both women and men reported that they didn't apply for a role mostly because they didn't think they'd be hired.

"In my role with BaptistCare, I'm particularly interested in how we attract and keep quality candidates in the sector of both genders, especially for less 'attractive' aged care sector," Judith said.

"Women are sometimes perceived differently to men when we speak up in a meeting or around a Board table," commented Julie Lawrie, Chair of the Baptist Care SA Board.

"This can be challenging to negotiate when you first move into leadership roles, but it is so important that we do speak up. How can we offer our unique skills and perspectives and fulfill the obligations of our roles if we're too worried about how our words will be perceived or held against us?" Julie asked.

Robina Bradley is Board Chair of Baptcare (Victoria and Tasmania), and she has a particular interest in moving beyond discussions about gender balance to real action.

"I'm hoping this forum will lead all our organisations to have a real discussion about how women get into leadership roles. What makes a good organisation that fosters gender diversity? And how can we build networks to support, advocate and promote women in their careers?" Robina said.

Women in the workplace

Two conference sessions raised some thought-provoking facts about women in the workplace. Liz Griffin from the Commonwealth Bank and Mariam Veiszadeh both addressed both the myth of meritocracy in the workplace and the value to businesses in improving gender equality.

McKinsey's latest report from 2017 summarises ten years of research on gender in the workplace. It sets out research findings on the benefits to productivity, financial returns and organisational effectiveness in organisations with greater representation of women in senior roles.

The report also shows how women leaders tend to display more of the positive leadership behaviours judged to be important in organisational performance. McKinsey's analysis of 300 companies around the world found a difference in return on equity of 47 percent between the companies with the most women on their executive committees and those with none, and a 55 percent difference in operating results.

How are we doing?

So how are Baptist Care organisations going in relation to gender equality?

Each year any organisation that employs more than 100 people must report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on how they're progressing towards gender equality. All ten organisations that are members of Baptist Care Australia lodge a report each year with the Agency.

It will come as no surprise that the vast majority of our employees are women (82%). When you look at all managers, the proportion of women drops to 70%. However, if you look at the most senior leaders - the CEO and two levels lower - only 56% are women.

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, in Australia, women make up 29.7% of key management roles.

So compared to the whole Australian workforce, Baptist Care agencies are maintaining healthy levels of women in leadership. But given that 82% of all employees are women, the question is whether the percentage should be even higher than it is. How can our organisations help to nurture the emerging female leaders already in our workforces? And if we value gender diversity, how can we boost the overall proportion of men in our organisations, especially in non-managerial roles?

If you would like to be involved with the planning of the women's leadership forum for next year's annual conference, please contact Executive Director, Marcia Balzer.