Xinja women:
hacking the glass ceiling

Xinja women: hacking the glass ceiling

As we said in our last blog, Xinja has done pretty well on the old gender parity – with our Chairperson, half our exec and in fact half the company being female. For a fintech – our industry crossing the tech and finance lines (where gender parity is typically not fabulous) – this is great….so far so good….but how do we maintain this? In this blog we’re looking at the glass ceiling in particular….the proverbial barrier to the boardroom. How it is created, and how companies can crack it?

Arguably, there is no glass ceiling. There is no sudden moment as a woman rises thru the ranks when BANG – she thwacks her head on an invisible barrier.

So why is the glass ceiling there?

Arguably, there is no glass ceiling. There is no sudden moment as a woman rises thru the ranks when BANG – she thwacks her head on an invisible barrier. But there is a dearth of women further up the echelons. To understand this, we need to start at the bottom – it has its roots very early in the talent pipeline. According to McKinsey – in their recent report ”The Power of Parity – advancing women’s equality in the Asia-Pacific“ – which includes a specific section on Australia – women make up 56 % of tertiary graduates, and 44 % of entry level professionals. So what happens then? Women start to drop out of the pipeline even at these levels. McKinsey says that the cause is largely the “anytime, anywhere” performance model of work (ie: you are ready at any moment to perform your duties regardless, which can discriminate against those looking after children) followed closely by the “double burden” syndrome of women taking on employment, while also remaining primarily responsible for care and household duties. A notable third cause that researchers cited was the absence of female role models (so we are already in a self-perpetuating situation….).

McKinsey points out that the problem is compounded in the tech industry, because there are so few women in entry level positions (so it’s hardly a level playing field to start with). The research suggests that this is due in part to early career barriers such as short term contracts and career instability (which conflicts with the societal need for women to be the stable carer and homemaker) as well as huge numbers of women experiencing biases which limit opportunities in the workplace.

The drop-off of women in the middle of their careers continues. Women in Australia go from occupying 44 % of entry-level professional jobs, to 36 % of middle management roles. This is largely due to the reality of having a family during this time of career, as well as the expectation that women will have families at this time in their career (whether that actually happens or not). Is there a problem here of men (and women) being more circumspect about taking on women in their thirties as they are (sort of) ‘loitering with intent to get pregnant’? With parental leave as opposed to maternity leave now being prevalent, one would hope that this bias is diminishing. However, the disproportionate rate at which women choose to leave the workplace to better juggle care and household duties (whether it is a choice or not) highlights the need for these tasks to be shared more if we are ever going to smash the glass ceiling.

“It’s important to get women participating on boards, but it’s much more important to get them running the companies in executive roles. Still we’re doing very little of that”. The number of women CEOs in the ASX 200 is fewer than the number of men called Steven.

As we get to the third level of this rather depressing reversed funnel, it all becomes very marked. We have come from women being 56 % of tertiary graduates, to being only 21% of senior managers, and 18% of board members across the country. Further, whilst women are reaching higher ranks in publicly listed companies, there is still an absence of women among senior executive ranks; UTS corporate governance expert Thomas Clarke highlights that “It’s important to get women participating on boards, but it’s much more important to get them running the companies in executive roles. Still we’re doing very little of that”. Professor Clarke points out that the number of women CEOs in the ASX 200 is fewer than the number of men called Steven.

Hedge funds run by women perform even better than those run by men

The glass ceiling is more or less apparent between industries. The financial services industry is one of the worst, with women in top leadership positions notoriously low. This is despite the evidence that women perform the same – as this article about Fund Managers in Morning Star highlights – and it appears that hedge funds run by women perform even better than those run by men in some circumstances.!

So should organisations try and do something about the glass ceiling?

There are various arguments about whether this should actively be addressed. These are often ‘moral’ – the argument that women and men should be equal in the workplace – which is an important consideration. However the counter argument to that is that if organisations do intervene for example to introduce quotas, that the best person for the job won’t necessarily be hired, that women will gain positions because of their gender, rather than attributes. And men might well get understandably grumpy if they feel they’re been passed over through no fault of their own. At Xinja, we’ve definitely gone for ‘best person for the job’ and ended up with a good balance, but what if this doesn’t happen? RMIT Deputy Dean of the School of Media and Communications says “everyone wants women to get opportunities based on their merits – but the problem is that they don’t, and that’s the reason quotas are needed.”.

Westpac has achieved gender parity in leadership positions controversially by using quotas. Chief Executive Brian Hartzer did say that there were very few complaints actually made about this, but when confronted with this compliant, he would happily reply with “Good news! We are reserving half the roles for you, too”.

Gender parity in Australia has the potential to increase our GDP by $225 billion!

Companies intervening to achieve greater diversity is not just about whether it’s right or wrong though. Greater gender diversity is directly linked to companies profitability and bottom line; gender parity is an economic imperative. Women in Payments CEO & Founder Kristy Duncan says that “gender diverse teams produce superior financial results – up to 15 % higher in the long term”. There has been a succession of clear evidence that there is a positive correlation between gender diversity, sales growth and profitability, for example the Westpac Deloitte Diversity Dividend Report is a good Australian case. Gender parity in Australia has the potential to increase our GDP by $225 billion!

The case for stronger growth and organisational profitability is strong. It provides a dispassionate reason for organisations to take on change and reap the benefits, rather than continuing to leave Aussie women out – it’s been far too long already.

OK but how DO we remove the glass ceiling?

McKinsey’s ‘The Power of Parity’ report highlights some key things companies can do. Firstly, redressing the ‘anytime, anywhere’ work model, and acknowledging the double burden syndrome that many women face with the cultural expectation of women being the providers of childcare. This can be done by facilitating some more work/home juggling by providing flexibility in the workplace (as Associate Professor Rae Cooper of Sydney Uni points out), the opportunity for job sharing, and using good old technology to plug the gaps (do you really need to be there all the time when there’s google hangouts/skype etc?). In Australia, Rio Tinto has a flexible work policy which gives everyone the option to work part time and jobshare. For this to work, flexibility must be normalised – meaning encouraging everyone, not just women – after all it’s equally handy for men.

One comprehensive Australian study (McKinsey again :-)) showed that the single element most correlated with higher ratios of women in top roles was to normalise flexible working. And that actively sponsoring women and supporting talent through life transitions was a useful tactic.

And there’s other stuff that can be done. More transparency internally around pay perhaps? (thank you Jennifer Lawrence….) Also, the unconscious bias training (to help with those interviews) like the programme in Victoria we cited in our previous blog. What’s exciting is that AI (artificial intelligence) could have an important role to play here with ‘bias-detection tech’ being developed and effectively deployed to monitor, anticipate and identify all kinds of bias in the recruitment and the workplace.

How far back do we need to go?

When I was at school (a million years ago) there was a programme called WISE (‘women into science and engineering’) and the modern equivalent is perhaps the promotion of STEM subjects to girls. BPAY Group Chief Information Officer Angela Donohoe says more needs to be done to attract women into the payments and fintech sectors by promoting career pathways in schools and universities. So arguably attacking the glass ceiling itself is missing the point. We need to go right back to the early stages to ensure it never forms – above us only sky 🙂

Camilla Cooke is Chief Marketing Officer at Xinja. We’d love to hear from you on this topic so do join the conversation on the Xinja forum here.

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