In our discussions on increasing the number of women in business, the same argument is always raised – “isn’t the problem that women take time out to have children?”

The other constant is the resistance to ‘special treatment’. Everyone wants merit-based processes – the only problem is we know from the facts that we don’t have merit in place now. There is a common bias throughout organisations, particularly at executive management level, in favour of anglo-saxon men. We heard an interesting report recently of Sam Mostyn, who became the first AFL Commissioner in 2005 (and recently appointed to the Virgin Blue Board), being challenged on the importance of merit selection processes and how wrong it is to be appointed because she was a woman. In her response Sam pointed out that her appointment as AFL Commissioner was actually the first rigorous merit based appointment to the position, all the men appointed before her had been selected out of the old boy’s network. She was only assessed so thoroughly because she was a woman. She went on to assure the man in question that she would be ensuring merit based appointments in the future, for men and women.

Other myths include that there are not enough women to do the jobs – we’ve seen Westpac and NAB in the last year saying they’d “love to employ more women, but they just can’t find any”. We specialise in recruiting women in business and finance and guess what? We have plenty of candidates. What we hear from women is that the big recruiting firms ignore them or don’t offer them appropriate opportunities – We often hear reports of laziness by recruiting firms and still amazingly hear of recruiting leaders (in firms that should know better) denying there is a problem for women in business. We were amazed to hear of a top female recruiter telling a candidate recently that she has an unofficial scoring system which gives candidates points for:

  • Their looks
  • Which school they went to and
  • Who they are married to

She went on to tell this candidate that she didn’t tick any of the boxes and probably couldn’t be helped. We also see businesses looking for a narrow focus of male dominated skills and attributes in places traditionally dominated by men and then wondering why no women apply for the job.

Pay equality is another persistent myth – that the pay gap (carefully documented by that most boring statistical institution, the Australian Bureau of Statistics) can’t be true in your own workplace and that the gender pay gap is exaggerated. Assuming that the pay gap is due to more women working part time is common but the statistics quoted of an 18% gap are adjusted to allow for equivalent full time working hours doing the same job and responsibilities. The pay gap is real and amazingly the gap widens the higher up the professional ladder you go. Less than 20% of organisations that report to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) have a plan to ensure pay equity. This is one of the more serious challenges to be addressed in the struggle for greater gender equity in business.