A couple of weeks ago I went to an event at the Brisbane Club hosted by Sonia McDonald, called the “Diversity Debate”. Sonia arranged a panel discussion with three Brisbane based CEOs, to debate issues around diversity (predominantly gender diversity) in the modern corporate workforce. Representing the blokes was Peter Birtles (CEO – Super Retail Group) and Martin Moore (CEO – CS Energy), and representing the ladies was Megan Houghton (CEO – CitySmart) and of course Sonia herself. In the audience was about 50 women and a few men (including yours truly).
It was a really enjoyable evening and Sonia should be proud of the fact everyone seemed to have a good time and hear some interesting points of view. To be honest, it wasn’t much of a debate; and a bit too politically correct for me. Of course, lubricated by a couple of wines, I couldn’t help myself and had to wade into the discussion, hopefully adding a bit of controversy to an otherwise pretty tame conversation. I made a couple of points from the perspective of an executive recruiter that is working at CEO and C-Suite level every day, about what is happening at the pointy end of diversity, being recruiting the actual vacancies.
I thought I would extrapolate on some of my points in this blog, both for people who were at the event and also anyone else who may be interested.
Here’s some statistics on roles we have recruited in the last month:
- CFO – major NFP – $250k salary – 96 applicants – 7 women (7%) – 0 women on the short-list as none met the requisite experience – not finalised however placed candidate will be a man
- COO – approx $50m turnover private company – $250k salary – 220 applicants – 8 women (3%) – 1 woman on the short-list (who was headhunted and was one of the preferred candidates) – placed candidate a man
- CEO – Major professional services organisation – $200k salary – 261 applicants – 31 women (12%) – 2 women on the short-list – placed candidate a man
- CEO – high profile NFP – $250k salary – 113 applicants – 10 women (9%) – 1 woman on the short-list – placed candidate a man
These are some pretty telling statistics, in that averaged across the four roles, only 8 percent of applicants were women. Why is it that so few women are applying for these opportunities?
It’s a fairly commonly held view in executive recruitment that generally, when women read a job advertisement they are looking for evidence that they don’t meet the requirements stated, and as a result don’t apply. On the other hand, men generally have an over-inflated sense of their own skills and achievements, and are far more likely to apply for roles even if they don’t meet some of the clearly articulated expectations in the advertisement. I realise this is a generalisation, however the statistics for the four roles above seems to validate this viewpoint.
So it seems one of the first things we need to do to get more gender diversity at senior executive level, is to encourage more women to actually apply for roles. It’s pretty hard to sustain an argument that women are getting overlooked through a recruitment process, when only 8 percent actually show up (i.e. submit an application).
Secondly, what happens when in a short-list there are female candidates; however across the full range of selection criteria they fall slightly short against the comparable male candidate? In pursuit of a gender diversity target, should the female candidate be hired regardless? To do so, whilst admirable, must mean that an organisation is prepared to take a longer term view, knowing it will need to potentially provide more resources in terms of training and support to enable the new female recruit to get completely up to speed. How will shareholders and other key stakeholders react in an environment where a drive for increases in profits is often the key (and only) indicator of success? Also, what is the potential effect on an organisation’s human capital (employee motivation, staff turnover etc.) if sub-optimal leaders are appointed purely to meet a well-intentioned gender diversity target?
Thus we get back to the dilemma of merit based versus diversity based recruitment. Having spoken to literally hundreds of very successful female executives in my career as an executive recruiter, I believe that almost without exception they would say they achieved their professional success due to the merits of their career, rather than the fact they are a woman. The challenge then is in providing women with the mentoring and education during their early career to ensure that when the roles they aspire to become available, they are truly job ready and are offered the position based on the fact they are the best candidate for the role.
Another point to consider is women leaving the workforce to have children and then returning to their corporate careers. I believe we are still working from an old and irrelevant paradigm regarding our careers: go to school, make a decision about your preferred career by 18 years old to select the right tertiary education, get married and quickly have a few kids, and die in your fifties. However, the reality for most of us Gen X and Gen Y’ers, is that we are going to be working well into our sixties and even seventies. So it is completely conceivable that a woman can take time out of her career to have children and then return to the workforce in her forties and have another 30 years of working life. In my opinion, gender equality at senior executive levels is inevitable given the substantially longer time women (and men) will remain in the workforce in the future.
A study was done in 2004 by T.A. Judge and D.M. Cable in the Journal of Applied Psychology that less than 15 percent of American men are over six feet tall, yet almost 60 percent of corporate CEOs are over six feet tall. Less than four percent of American men are over six feet, two inches tall, yet over 36 percent of corporate CEOs are over six feet, two inches tall. Let’s assume that the Australian statistics are similar.
Do I stare up into the heavens, shaking my fist in the air, shouting, “Damn you, God, why didn’t you give me four more inches?” (for I am only five foot, ten). Do I go home and say to my wife, “Darling, you would be so much happier if I only had four more inches” (because I would earn a lot more money)?
I believe in life people are generally either Victims or Creators. Victims say, “Why is this happening to me?” and blame others and circumstances for their lack of success. Creators instead say, “How can I create a life I am truly proud of regardless of my circumstances?” I am certain that Megan, Peter, Martin and Sonia are all Creators rather than Victims, and I hope you are too.
So, you were born a female. I was born missing four inches!!! Let’s go out and create amazing, meaningful lives regardless, shall we?
Blog by Richard Triggs