Where are all the female bosses?

Randi Zuckerberg at the World of Business Ideas Forum in Sydney 2017

Randi Zuckerberg at the World of Business Ideas Forum in Sydney 2017

Ever heard of a company called Facebook?

Thought so!

Randi Zuckerberg ran the mega-company's marketing programs from 2005-2011. She is also an author, actress, TV producer, keynote speaker, and founder and CEO of marketing firm and production company, Zuckerberg Media. Randi also happens to be the sister of Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg. This woman knows what it’s like to work at the top!

At the recent World of Business Ideas Forum in Sydney, Randi was the keynote speaker. While there, Randi was interviewed about her thoughts on the issues facing women in business today. They included the lack of diversity at senior corporate levels, the lack of venture capital funding for female entrepreneurs, the education system, and families and pop culture not seeing tech and business-savvy women as positive role models.

Karen Quintos, EVP & Chief Customer Officer at Dell, agrees with the need to celebrate successful female entrepreneurs.

“… We absolutely must celebrate women entrepreneurs in the media. There are lots of great success stories, and there is no better way to change perceptions and inspire the next generation of girls than by giving these women a big stage to tell their stories.”

What’s going on?

Let’s look at the education system and the corporate environment in more detail to see what’s really happening.

Changes in the Australian education system are seeing more women in tech subjects than ever before. The female completion rates for post-graduate education are excellent but what happens after that is where the problems start to unfold.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency report: Untapped opportunity. The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential (July 2013), states that:

“A greater proportion of females than males are reaching and completing year 12, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications. However, as soon as they leave higher education, women start to be lost from the full-time workforce.”

This finding is backed up by the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2017 (Australia: Case Study)

“…Another area of concern is that although the ‘Tertiary Education Gross Enrollment Rate - (F/M)’ suggests that there are more females enrolled in tertiary education institutions than males (100.0 against 74.3 in favor of females), this acquired knowledge asset is not always translated into economic contribution through the workforce. This is evident in the score for ‘Labor Force Participation Rate - F/M’ whereby for every 71 actively working male, there are only 58 females doing the same. This implies that women may be undermined in their capacity to find work.”

Multiple road blocks

The average age of women completing post-graduate study is 32 years - one of the prime child-bearing years! Where women go from there is determined more by society’s perception of what they want and less by what they really do want. Here are just some of the common road blocks women come up against in this situation:

·      In its Gender Indicator report in 2013, The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that the labour force participation rate was higher for males than females across all age groups.

The Untapped Opportunity report gives us more, detailed insights. (Which aren’t that surprising.)

·      There is a lack of flexible employment opportunities overall.
·      The cost of childcare is so high it prohibits many women returning to work, even on a part-time basis.
·      Women tend to choose lower-paying jobs in areas such as health and education as they have more flexible, parent-friendly, opportunities.

Corporate expectations

Many executive roles require post-graduate qualifications but the women with these qualifications don’t get the opportunity to work in career-advancing roles. A big part of that is due to the (often unspoken) myth that women who don’t work full-time are not as committed to company goals. They are not invited to meetings or included in many company communications. In effect, they are sidelined!

Reality check

The Untapped Opportunity report shoots that myth down in flames with very telling facts.

·      Of all the women in the Australian workforce, 43.2% work part-time – compared to 13.5% of men. BUT, women in these roles only waste 11.1% of their time while men waste 14.5%. The main factors that cause wasted time for women are work that doesn’t get used, low-value tasks or waiting for other people. (This last factor may possibly be due to a limited availability of online communication away from the office in these roles.)
·      Also, for women aged 20 – 34 who consider they have high flexibility, 64% have a clear career direction, whereas of those who consider they have low flexibility, only 10% have a clear career direction.

The research found that:

“Thanks to these more productive flexible workers, … collectively Australian and New Zealand workers could save at least $1.4 billion on wasted wages by employing more productive female employees in flexible roles. In an average year, these women effectively deliver an extra week and a half of productive work, simply by using their time more wisely. In other words, for every 71 women employed in flexible roles, an organisation gains a productivity bonus of one additional full-time employee.”

Keeping women in the workforce also has another major benefit for the economy – they are still earning superannuation, making them less likely to be reliant on the aged-pension in retirement. The report went on to say that, overall, the cost to the nation for undergraduate and postgraduate women who do not enter the workforce is over $8 billion each year!

For organisations, retaining highly-skilled women on their payroll helps to retain their knowledge and experience within the company and reduces the need to hire and train others. (Saving even more money!)

What about female entrepreneurs?

For many women, the disenchantment with traditional employment options, the lack of advanced career prospects or the need work from home to be with kids leads them to consider some form of self-employment.

This might be in a cottage industry, based around the kitchen table, or as the owner of a start-up in an emerging industry such as the biotech industry. Women in either situation are generally very passionate about what they do and they aim high.

But, here, there is yet another road block. According to a CrunchBase report, between 2010 and 2015, only 10% of funding in global venture funding rounds went to female entrepreneurs. Reports on the Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index state that, in Australia, the figure is only 2-5%.

The MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs gives some insight into why this figure is so low.

“Research has highlighted and affirmed that although Australian women contribute nearly 40 percent of GDP and about 20 percent of private sector net job creation, they are less likely to be employers of other people compared to their male counterparts due to various factors such as socio-cultural norms, occupational segregation, migration patterns and other challenges such as financial capital access, networks and strategic choices. The results from GEM’s study also suggest that this could be due to a high fear of failure (39.2 percent above average of developed economies.”

What’s the solution?

While there are no clear-cut answers, overall it makes sense to keep professional women in the workforce by providing more flexibility and inclusion in professional employment. Shatter the stereotypes and look at the facts. Organisations and investors need to recognise the economic and social benefits of backing qualified women and giving them the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

One way companies can do this is to lead from the top. A diverse board reflects a diverse and innovative business that both customers and suppliers will want to deal with.

Provide the technology and resources to support women who want to lead. Allow them to work parent-friendly hours or to work from home some of the time. Support this with agile management approaches utilising sharing platforms like Skype for Business, Slack, and Trello.

Change the workplace culture. Positivity is contagious. Encourage opportunities for female role models and internal mentoring. Provide events and other engagement opportunities that encourage diversity. For example, through the World of Business Ideas platform.

What can women do?

·      Seek your own mentors within the company plus externally. Join networks and female empowering organisations where you can share experiences and learn from each other.
·      Work on building your self-confidence and self-esteem. Aim high and have a ‘why not me?’ attitude.
·      Step up and ask for what you want.  Learn to stop hiding and make people notice you for the right reasons. (See our article on The Mentor List, ‘Step out of the shadows and shine.’)
·      Do your research and have the appropriate data at your fingertips when pitching for a promotion or funding. Randi Zuckerberg says that is one of the key things she looks for when deciding to invest in a venture.

What can men do?

Guys can help their female peers by supporting them as much as possible. Gender Strategist, Jeffery Tobias Halter, says an excellent way to gauge how your organisation is doing in this area is to ask, “Would you want your daughter to work here?”

Overall, Australia is doing well in providing favourable conditions for gender balance in business, but there is no doubt there is still much room for improvement. What steps can you take to make a difference?