Recently, I had the “good fortune” of taking my two sons to the park for a play date. This task is rarely assigned to me but I accepted it with a certain excitement. When I arrived at the park, I was met by approximately 15 mothers and 25 kids but not one father in sight. I was entering enemy territory.
My fears were certainly realised when one of the mothers came to me and asked “do you work in human resources?” I answered her with “kind of” explaining that my business worked in recruitment and online HR consulting services. She replied “good, because I have a bone to pick with people like you”. She went on to tell me that she had missed out on a promotion because she was a female and that work was a ‘boys club’. Her talents were not being recognised because she didn’t talk about football and her career was suffering. She wanted to sue her employer and wanted to let me know all about it (I started faking illness and took the boys home pretty quickly).
Gender equality has been put firmly on the agenda again by successive Prime Ministers. Former Prime Minister Gillard has embarked on a speaking tour where she has spoken candidly about the often vicious sexism she was subjected to while in the role. She highlighted gender based antagonism from within her party, the opposition, the media and the public in general. Prime Minister Abbott has done even more to highlight gender equality in recent times. Firstly, there was his extremely generous paid maternity leave scheme which was widely condemned on economic grounds but lauded by working mothers. However, he lost significant ground with the naming of his cabinet where he gave only a 5% representation to women. It was an inexplicable error of judgement from his part and he was criticised heavily for it.
This, combined with the lady in the park got me thinking; what have I done in my own workplace to ensure gender equality?
The lady in the park did ask one interesting question that got me thinking. She asked me to tell her one area where I felt women excelled over their male counterparts. It took me back a bit as I struggled to pinpoint only one area. It also took me back because I felt like any answer I gave would open me up to strong criticism. I think I shocked my audience with my answer; competence.
Now, let me put some context to this statement. It is extremely broad and general and my own belief has always been that a top quality person should always be favoured, irrespective
of gender. However, for whatever reason, throughout my entire career, I found that the most competent people that I have ever worked with have been women.
I don’t make this statement lightly. Competence does not mean that they are the best or most successful people I have encountered. I have worked with some brilliant, successful and entrepreneurial men in my career but for pure levels of competence, two ladies in particular stand above the others. I was thinking about what made these ladies stand out the other night and realised that they shared a great many common experiences.
Both ladies had overcome adversity to reach the levels they had in their careers. I would a hazard to guess that those that knew the ladies when they were young would feel as though they have exceeded their career ambitions. Both ladies came from tough backgrounds and were self-made. One came from a very traditional non-English speaking family where the females were supposed to be at home raising families. Both ladies were perfectionists and highly competitive and driven. They never let anything get in the way of exceeding their goals. Finally, both ladies were tough and hard as nails; communication skills could not be described as a strong point and both do not suffer fools well at all.
However, the one skill that sets them apart for me when it comes to assessing competence is the fact that they always delivered. You always knew what you were going to get and you knew it would be of the highest possible standard. You knew that the budget would be exceeded without fail or you knew that the project would be delivered accurately and punctually. You never had to remind them to do something because they never forgot to. You never had to ask twice and they could manage extreme workloads under incredible pressure. They would not sleep before the work they produced was perfect (if I was qualified, I may even diagnose OCD) and they were proud to be associated with their work. They were both introverts and struggled with the attention but their businesses could not have done without them.
I often wonder where my career would be without having the experience of working with these two ladies. Working with them, together with being raised by a highly competent mother and married to a highly competent wife, has certainly shaped my view of competence and my belief that this is an area where the most competent employees tend to be female. It is certainly biased and most likely discriminatory.
One final thing, I did a little research into the lady who missed the promotion. She was applying to become a manager but was rejected on the grounds that her personality was not suited to the role. Apparently having two bullying complaints against her precluded her from obtaining the promotion!!!
Brad McMahon – Managing Director