Women, don't be compliant
WOMEN have to let go of the need to be liked, because it is stifling their careers and standing in the way of their goals, says leadership consultant Gemma Munro.
Munro, 36, runs consultancy company Inkling Women, specialising in training and workshops to help women gain confidence and take control of their careers.
Business is booming, with more organisations wanting to help their female staff grow in confidence, stand up for leadership roles and ensure they are heard. “If women are strong, they get cut down; if they’re seeking approval, they’re seen as ineffective.”
The doctor of psychology who specialises in leadership coaching says for centuries women have been taught to stand back – what she calls the “good girl” phenomenon. Munro blames the brain, the amygdala or lizard brain, which is guided by emotions and is responsible for fear and compromise.
Munro says that part of the brain’s original purpose in women was to keep them safe and hidden, to protect them through thought.
“When you get up to say what you want, the amygdala says don’t stand up, you’re stupid,” she says.
“Women are more in tune with their lizard brain. They need to say it’s not me being fearful, I’m not going to be attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger, it’s irrational.”
Whether it be public speaking, posture or voicing their wants and needs, Munro says ingrained behaviour is slowly changing.
While in the past men have been rewarded and praised for their strength, power and decision-making skills, she says, women were rewarded for being collaborative.
However, Munro says women are slowly being recognised for their leadership qualities.
A report undertaken by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, published in Harvard Business Review in 2012, found that in 16 leadership competencies women outperformed men in all but one.
The pair found in their US study of 7280 leaders that women outrated men as judged by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports and with associates when assessed as better overall leaders.
Women consistently outrated their male peers when it came to taking initiative, self-development, displaying high integrity and honesty, inspiring and motivating others, building relationships, teamwork, championing change and communicating.
The only category where men outrated women was in developing a strategic perspective.
Zenger and Folkman found that while organisations worked hard to find the talent to achieve results, they needed to be more aware that women often possessed “impressive leadership skills”.
“As to the constant state of unease we hear women leaders express – clearly, chauvinism or discrimination is an enigma that organisations (and the business culture) should work hard to prevent,” they said.
Progress is slow in recognising women in leadership roles, but initiatives such as federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick’s male champions of change are making inroads.
While the representative body does not advocate quotas, Munro does, along with the 2013 Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose and Women’s Leadership Institute Australia founder Carol Schwartz.
“Business needs to set targets for at least 30 per cent women in management, and ideally up to 50 per cent,” Munro says.
“They are soft targets and if you don’t have a culture that supports the development of women, you’re not going to get there.”
In the quota versus meritocracy debate, Munro says good female leaders should still find their way into leadership roles. Munro was also critical of the gender pay gap, which has remained virtually unchanged for 20 years. She is particularly concerned about pay gaps for graduates, which still exist in certain professions.
“It still happens because organisations have realised they can get away with it,” she says.
“Female graduates generally say ‘Yes, that pay’s fine’, but men generally negotiate. When you’re knocked back, you need to ask again.”
She supports auditing of gender pay, an issue pushed by Schwartz.
Schwartz says KPMG was one of the first corporates to undertake gender remuneration reporting and others should follow suit.
“Even if a company has a commitment to transparency, remuneration is just one part of that,” Schwartz says.
“If you’re not prepared to be open and transparent about remuneration, what does that say about transparency generally?”
Schwartz says all companies should publish wage data, despite the furore over salaries at the ABC after data was leaked to The Australian last November.
While many companies publish salary data at the top end of their corporate structure, Schwartz says it should be top down. That includes graduate salaries, where male university graduates are still often paid higher starting rates than women.
“The male graduate will often ask for a sign-on bonus, which is not an official part of remuneration,” she says. “Males are much more confident about asking for that than women.”
Whether it relates to salary or roles within the workplace, Munro says a lot of her advice centres on success and women searching for happiness in a job they will enjoy rather than in a career mapped for them. She says they too often put family first to the detriment of their career but can have both.
If women are not satisfied with their worklife balance and are not waking up in the morning with a purpose, she says most need a change.
“I see a lot of women who get feedback from their bosses and they often end up progressing along what someone sees as their career path,” she says.
“They often get to the top and think ‘I don’t like this career path’. When you prioritise other people’s pleasure, you can end up living out other people’s dreams. If you’re not doing what gives us pleasure, you’re missing out on opportunities to hit out at your own purpose.”
Munro is doing what she wants to do, having decided after the birth of her first child while living in Melbourne that she wanted to coach women with leadership potential and training.
Inkling Women is expanding into the eastern states and running leadership courses in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. It also offers online eight-week courses.
As published by The Australian Business Review, 25 January 2014. Written by Verity Edwards.
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