Warning: Legislation To Mandate More Women on Boards is Not The Answer

When I first arrived in Australia several years ago, I struggled to find anyone who would hire me in a senior management capacity. I found this puzzling since I have two degrees, two professional designations and very solid work experience with recognized international brands. The MAIN reason I was given by organizations was that I “lacked Australian work experience”. I found this reason to be puzzling. We live in a world where there are few global trading boundaries. Every business is susceptible to the threat of losing customers to internet-based businesses and we need to think outside of the square to compete and maintain market share. My track record in business speaks for itself. And yet, I struggled to get a job because I didn’t have enough Australian experience. Doesn’t everyone else in these organizations have Australian experience? Why must I have it in order to add value? It seems to me that the biggest thing holding Australian businesses back right now is the “me too” syndrome. I do not consider this merely a sexist thing – that there are not enough women on boards and in senior management positions. What I mean is that there is an ingrained corporate culture that says the leaders and directors want to hire others that are “like them”. So if your management team or Board of Directors is made up largely of white, middle aged Anglo Saxon males with accounting or legal backgrounds, then that is who will tend to get the new board appointments. There is also a strong hint of nepotism – hiring mates and mates that they know vs. recruiting from the wider talent pool of all eligible and interested parties. I would bet that if someone did a survey, they would find that most directors are of a certain age, background and educational/work pedigree. I doubt you would find much diversity at all in terms of age, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, education and international work experience. In my estimation if there are 10 directors sitting around the table and 9-10 of them are coming at the issues from the exact same perspective/paradigm (because they have the same background and experience), then 9 of them should not be there. It’s that simple. If you want to create a culture of innovation and creativity, you cannot have 10 black hats (to use the famous coloured hat analogy of Edward de Bono) sitting around the boardroom table. In my estimation it is in times of desperation or perspiration that real change happens. This global financial crisis may be exactly what the doctor ordered to initiate some real, progressive change around here. We cannot continue to do what we have always done. For many businesses, that is clearly not working any more. Did you know that more millionaires were made and more inventions were created in the Great Depression than in any other comparable time in history? A change in global financial circumstances and a demand for innovation may create more PULL to get women into senior leadership positions than any federal legislation designed to PUSH women in there. There can be no doubt that women are good communicators and skilful at developing long term relationships. In this next decade I believe we will see companies steer away from boards comprised largely of white, middle aged Anglo Saxon men and more towards a unique/disparate mix of qualified candidates from all walks of life who contribute synergistically through their diversity. In the end, I believe there is no need to push and shove women (or any other minority group) onto boards. That sort of behaviour might be expected (but not tolerated) in the sandbox of your local kindergarten but, in my opinion, it has no place in the boardrooms of corporate Australia.

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