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Representation, Quotas and the day I stole Julie Bishop's name: January 2011


07 March 2011

I was watching a fabulous episode of Yes, Minister the other day with my husband, the Pompous Goose. The 1982 episode, Equal Opportunity, saw Minister Hacker propose a 25% quota of women in senior roles in British civil service within 4-years. Susan, the story's heroine, refused to be the Trojan Horse for the initiative, saying that the quota is one of pointless intrigue, as all she wants is a role where there is achievement, not activity ... 1982 people! 1982!

Funny how a bit of TV viewing can cause a storm within. I am unsure if I am tired of hearing about representation and quotas for women in management and board roles ... or am I just completely confounded and frustrated that we still have to bang on about it?

I struggle with the tokenistic nature of 'increased representation' and 'quotas for women' and ask how do you increase representation and meet quotas strategically and with integrity? I think I have found an example ...

I've come to learn about a global manufacturing company over the last few months. Their vision is for profitable growth through inclusiveness, engagement and diversity within their workforce. They map diversity against two dimensions, a quantitative dimension [having the right skills in the right place for the short and long term needs of the organisation] and a qualitative dimension [ensuring inclusiveness and engagement so that individuals can unleash their full potential]. Diversity is championed at every level within the organisation and measured against high employee satisfaction, high diversity, organisational capability, productivity and low employee turnover. All of which are underpinned by policies, procedures, quotas and ongoing leadership development. Brilliant!

There is a KPI in place, where women need to represent a certain percentage of all candidates being considered for a role. The obligation is on the individual leading the recruitment process to seek women who meet the needs of the role and the organisation. They cannot proceed with the recruitment process until they do. Even more brilliant!

Granted that this is a big example ... but the take away for any business size is this, diversity and capability combined can give you a powerful competitive advantage. Research indicates a probable link between higher organisational and financial performance and the number of women on the board and in senior executive roles of such organisations. Read the full article from 20-First >>

Yet, I keep being niggled by this thought ... do women want to be in management, executive and board roles anyway?

Maybe it's only a handful of women that are interested in pursuing such opportunities? If so, that would make sense ... it's reflected in the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workforce Agency's 2010 Census Key Findings Report, where women are in a handful of board and senior executive roles. Read the key findings from the EOWA report >>

Maybe there is a glass ceiling?

Maybe there is a sticky floor?

Maybe there are other factors at play? Take for example the August 2010 election. We now have 33 [22%] women currently sitting in the House of Representatives, compared with 41 prior to the election. Some women members did not stand for re-election; others simply didn't get the numbers. Yet, what is interesting about this 22% of women in the House of Representatives, it mirrors the combined total of women as Chairs, CEOs, Executive Key Management Personnel and Board Directors for ASX 200 companies from the 2010 EOWA report [21.9%]

Maybe it all boils down to choice and numbers. Do we have enough willing and able women who choose such leadership opportunities? What will it take for women to make the choice?

Anyway ... I was in attendance [with the Pompous Goose] at the last hurrah dinner at Parliament House in September 2009 to celebrate the Howard Government years. During this event, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop, spoke of the representation of women in the party and in State and Federal positions. Post-formalities, the night turned into more of a Irish Wake than a formal function and I took the opportunity to knick the little named place-cards from the head table. I now have my own set of place-cards for special dinners at our joint ... as long as your name is John, Janette, Julie or Julia.