Recent discussion on the numbers of women in leadership has returned to the idea of quotas – including this article:
I have often pondered why quotas are seen to be evil. Collectively, I think we believe that we are better than that given we all understand that women are equally as talented and educated as men in Australia today. Indeed several senior executives I have spoken too would acknowledge that women are frequently more competent and knowledgeable than men at the comparable level in their chosen fields.
My view is that we all like to believe change can happen organically as part of a natural progression, once we all recognise and acknowledge the obvious benefits. I don’t wish to feel constrained or dictated to by artificial quotas, targets or policies – I want the freedom to run my teams and businesses in the way I think is best – right person, right role, regardless of their gender, culture or lifestyle choices. So quotas – which are more carrot than stick – are in my view a motivation that can work. Much as I will tell my children they must eat 2 bites of broccoli before they have dessert. But the “broccoli quota” doesn’t actually make them like or appreciate broccoli, they just grit their teeth and get through it, or worse hide the green stuff in their pockets, with the ice cream at the end the reward.
I think any public discussion of these topics helps, but I draw the most inspiration where we seek to put responsibility for change in the hands of the individual. Recent references include Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant’s article:
So I ask myself – what actions am I taking to be a catalyst for change? For a start I’m writing this blog, which is part of my commitment in 2014 to facilitate open discussion on the issue of women in leadership. I believe real, sustainable change will only happen when we all recognise the need for personal, individual responsibility, including calling out inappropriate behaviour when we see it. I am a fan of the sometimes controversial Male Champions of Change initiative, because it is leveraging the status of the current male dominated ranks of CEOs in corporate Australia to model behaviour and act as catalysts to initiate change – but as individuals taking responsibility upon themselves. So I will continue this year to create talking points wherever possible and progress my own career.
But I also recommend we keep an eye on the future and question the way we present ourselves to future generations. We all have the ability to act as role models day in, day out to not only our own kids but others we interact with, in both the ways we act and the things we say.
I was very proud of my teenage son when he announced last year he didn’t want me to buy Tim Tams anymore because he knew eating 2 packs a week was not healthy for him. He had taken responsibility for change himself. I was equally proud when he noted with horror that he had just realised how many mothers of his school mates didn’t work – but told me he thought it perfectly normal that I did. In fact he thought it was better for everyone! That moment melted away a decade of working parent guilt.
We should never underestimate the power of the individual – and neither should we abdicate responsibility for change to a system of quotas, targets or endorsement by senior leaders. We should all just walk the talk ourselves in whatever way we can, and remember that doing nothing is akin to endorsing the status quo.