Progress is being made addressing gender imbalances in leadership, but there is still a long way to go before genuine equity is achieved.
As Reggie Cabal, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of ORIX Australia told the audience for the recent Gaining Ground Together: Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders Today event, women still suffer from imposter syndrome where they question themselves and their ability to juggle work, family and life.
“Additionally, many archaic views on women and leadership are still prevalent. But women in leadership roles are highly effective and organisations that embrace diversity reap the rewards such as an abundance of perspectives, experiences and capabilities, leading to better decision-making.”
Here are the main insights from this important event which was sponsored by ORIX Australia and Canon Australia.
Making the most of mentors and allies
Mentoring is one of the best ways to support women to advance their careers and it’s important that women know how to find mentors and make the most of these relationships.
“Mentors share their experiences and challenges with you. They have given me that push to do things I wasn’t sure I was capable or ready for. It’s really pushed me ahead in my career,” she said.
Kate said the key for a productive mentor/mentee relationship is open communication and a foundation of trust. “You do need to be vulnerable and open to receiving feedback and different perspectives to get the most from the relationship.”
Other insights about developing a great mentor relationship, says Georgia Kollaras, Senior Marketing Manager, Metcash include:
- Finding somebody with whom you can be yourself
- Finding somebody with similar personality traits
- Finding somebody with whom you can talk about all aspects of your life
- Finding somebody who believes in your abilities.
Making the leadership path more accessible for women
Panellists noted a supportive network helps encourage women on their leadership journey.
Kate said: “It means when you jump in the deep end, they’re going to help you swim and make sure you succeed.”
Feeling comfortable to advocate for yourself in a business is another way to help yourself climb the leadership ladder, Georgia noted.
“It’s something I had to learn quickly. We talk about women being smaller or skinnier but the language we use with men is about being bigger and more muscly. We need to change this and feel comfortable talking about why we’re special.”
On a practical level, this means being open with mentors and talking about what you can bring to the table.
Creating change around workplace behaviours and systemic gender bias
Most women have experienced gender bias in the workplace. A positive way to deal with this is, rather than allowing it to become part of accepted behaviour, is to use it as an opportunity to create change and educate.
“Focus on what’s playing into systemic gender bias and what can we do differently, so we don’t keep falling into the same traps. You can steer the conversation away from gender and focus on people’s ability and skills. These conversations create momentum and help women succeed,” said Kate.
Juggling work-life balance
Work-life balance has never been more important or more blurred. Stephanie Wang, General Manager, Commercial and Finance, at Canon Business Services, said what’s important is to take a holistic view of work-life balance.
“As much as we may try to separate them, work and personal life are no longer mutually exclusive. It’s important that flexible working continues to be normalised; that’s key in achieving a more diverse workplace. It’s also important to be clear about what’s important for your wellbeing and place a value on it. It’s also really empowering to choose how to get your job done and have space to look after yourself.”
How to bring your authentic self to your role
Georgia noted she’s struggled with this in the past. “I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m extremely passionate. Last year, I sat with my managing director for a performance appraisal and talked about these traits being weaknesses. He told me these traits make me unique and great at what I do, provided I know how to use them for good. That advice has allowed me to become comfortable in who I am and what I offer the business.”
Navigating power structures
When Jennefer Ramos, Head of Quality and Regulatory Affairs at Philips Australia and New Zealand, moved to Australia in 2004, self-belief and courage allowed her to develop her career as a leader.
“Be bold and stand tall because you’re the only one who can make and build good, lasting relationships, which is key in navigating power structures.”
Jennefer Ramos also said that workplaces now have a better understanding of how to prioritise women in leadership. “We’re more aware of being inclusive right from the start of someone’s career. At Philips, we’re transparent about succession planning, which involves collaborative work between team members and their leaders. It’s such an empowering process and prepares you for a leadership role.”
Three final top tips to encourage greater gender diversity at the leadership level:
- Encourage everyone in your team to have a voice
- Find out what people really want in their careers
- Ensure senior leaders tackle big issues like gender equality.