There are currently more men named Peter sitting on ASX 200 boards than there are women. From this, one could assume that it is easier to get onto the executive of an ASX listed company if your name is Peter than if you are a woman.
Throughout our work, we find that both men and women alike are often resistant to action which directly seeks to address gender imbalance in the workplace. “I want to be promoted because I’m good at my job, not because I’m a woman” or “It’s easier to get promoted here if you’re a woman because of affirmative action.” Is there any truth in these statements? Is action which seeks to directly address gender imbalance a self-fulfilling prophecy of gender inequity? The truth is, no. As a female Shell executive once said in response to what women should do when confronted with the fear of being appointed based on affirmative action, “Get over it, no one will ever appoint a board member based on their gender, it just doesn’t happen.”
When we enter organizations, we ask employees ‘Who is the archetypal employee here? What does a successful employee here look like?’ Time and time again, those who are viewed as competitive, confident and unashamed of self-promotion are those who do well professionally within organizations. Do those traits speak true of you?
Research argues that it is the way we are defining merit which is limiting women’s abilities and defining success in incredibly narrow terms. If success means working a 8am-9pm day, answering emails throughout the night, having no commitments outside of work and aggressively pursuing your own objectives without allowing anyone else to stand in your way, then yes, you are successful and deserving of merit. If however, you juggle family commitments, battle with stereotypes about your ability based solely on your gender whilst still committing 100% to your work and those around you, then maybe that is the type of merit that is deserving of praise and success.
We can only redefine merit when we start to redefine how we view our archetypal leaders. If we continue to view success in such narrow terms, we are limiting the opportunities of those who have far more to offer than what they have previously been permitted to show.