Gender and leadership potential

picIn 2013, less than 25 percent of new board appointments to ASX 200 boards were women.

Currently, 16.4% of directors in the ASX 200 are women.

How can that be?

This might sound funny coming from a man, but these statistics are astonishing. Can it really be explained away by women opting out of corporate life? What sort of system produces such a result?

I’ll give you our take. Firstly, none of these arguments stand up to scrutiny:

  • There are not enough decent female candidates.
  • Many women go and have babies, missing out on the years they could be climbing the corporate ladder.
  • Most women don’t want to or can’t go into those roles – they’re just not cut out for leadership. Ok – so you don’t hear that much anymore out loud. But I don’t think it is far from the surface for some people (but it is still complete rubbish).

If you’re a woman, do these views annoy you or the women you know? If you’re a man, this thinking might get under your skin too. Think about what it’s like to encounter this regularly and you’ll start to understand the problem.

The current situation cannot be explained by a lack of leadership potential: leadership potential is evenly spread among populations (we have research supporting this if you’re interested). And in the words of Betty Spence, President of the National Association of Female Executives:

“If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers and Sisters we probably wouldn’t have had our financial meltdown.”

The problem? The shared beliefs that are commonly held – expressed either implicitly or explicitly – (by men and women) that contribute to women not being able to convert their potential into capability.

There are subtle signs as well as obvious ones that point to the source of the problem. You could go round and round in circles trying to work out what they are and aren’t. We don’t think that is necessary. The vast majority of the most senior people making decisions in Australia are men. Collectively, we men have shared beliefs and that’s extremely powerful – we share beliefs and so form a culture.

We think there is one big change which can be made now:

Put in place a way to understand and develop leadership potential in a way that is objective and that short-circuits – as far as possible – those beliefs that inhibit the development of women as leaders.

Be brave and do that consistently. You will be rewarded.