Women in Leadership – Why We Need More “Middle-Aged, White Blokes” to Step Up 

November 10, 2022 | Maureen Frank

There is serious underrepresentation of women in leadership, according to the latest Women in the Workplace 2022 report to come out from McKinskey

It’s an issue for organisations because the data shows that companies do better when they appoint more women to leadership positions. 

So, why then are women still leaving leadership roles in droves? Or, why don’t organisations invest more to grow their female talent pipeline? 

Subtle acts of exclusion continue, leaving women feeling like they don’t belong. This means they leave the organisation creating a ripple that affects engagement, productivity, and collaboration, to name a few. 

In this article, we’re going to dive deeper into women leadership and how an inclusive workplace can make a big impact, allowing organisations to reap even more benefits by having women at the helm. 

Why is women’s leadership important for organisations? 

Having women leaders in influential positions is important because women: 

  1. Act as role models for other women in the organisation 
  1. Offer unique mentorship opportunities 
  1. Have a positive impact on workplace policies  
  1. Bring difference to the table 
  1. Attract a more diverse workforce 

We also know that women possess different leadership qualities and traits to men and studies show that it’s women who have what it takes to lead effectively. So, rather than acting more like men, it should in fact be the other way around. Men should try to lead more like their opposite sex in order to achieve greater outcomes for their organisation. 

If women leaders are more persuasive, assertive and willing to take more risks than their male counterparts, why are there still so few women in leadership roles? 

The Australian statistics around women in leadership

We hear and read a lot about the statistics coming out of America, but what about Australian companies? 

According to this article on the ABC: 

“Of the 11,000 organisations from which the WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency) annually collects gender data, around one third currently have not a single woman on their boards. 

Of the ASX200 — Australia’s biggest companies — 34 currently have only one female board member, and four have no female board members at all, according to the latest data from the Australian Institute of Company Directors.” 

Furthermore, the study “demonstrated that companies who reduced their numbers of women in key leadership roles suffered a loss in value as a result, of around 3 per cent.” 

When the talent pool is broadened to include women in the pipeline to drive them towards decision-making roles, organisations perform better. 

So, if organisations begin to listen to the research, what do they need to do – what actions have to occur in order to attract, retain, and drive more women into leadership roles? 

What do organisations need to do to increase women leadership?  

The answer lies in inclusion allyship. 

Let me start with a story. 

I had a conversation with a leader recently who shared their experience as part of one of our inclusion programs for leaders. During our conversations they professed “I don’t feel like I’m the best poster child for diversity. I feel like a middle-aged white bloke.” 

It struck me as interesting because, even though they were sharing an example of their inclusive leadership behaviours, this comment made me realise that they possibly didn’t feel like they should be sharing their story – because they weren’t “diverse enough”. 

Here’s the catch – 

We’re all diverse. We’re all unique and we all bring our individual selves to our workplace. Our different styles of working. Our different ways of solving problems. Our different attitudes, beliefs, and backgrounds. 

The issue arises when the diversity isn’t included or considered.  

When the difference is ignored, and we’re encouraged to just do things as they always have been done. When we’re not given the opportunity to question the status quo or change. 

One way to support diversity is to be inclusive and wrapped up in this is also the act of allyship. To be an inclusion ally means that you support all colleagues who feel marginalised because of their difference.  

The thing is, we need the “middle-aged white blokes” to take a lead role because the answer to gender inclusion begins with them. This is because it’s “middle-aged white blokes” who are in the majority and for any minority to rise, they need the support of those who are in the powerful and influential positions.  

We need “middle-aged white blokes” to do more. 

How can organisations be more inclusive? 

Leaders report time and time again that they understand the benefits of inclusion on the workplace and on their people, but they don’t know the ‘how’ behind inclusive leadership. 

The day-to-day interactions that need to occur to build a sense of belonging and increase psychological safety can sometimes be forgotten during times of high-stress and busyness. 

This is why leaders need to build a new set of habits to underpin their leadership styles and ways of working. 

  1. It starts with understanding the business case for inclusion – and most leaders get this bit. 
  1. Then it’s about moving towards well, what does that look like, sound like, feel like within my workplace – and what does it NOT involve – this is the theory that many leaders haven’t learnt. 
  1. Then it’s about experimenting with the newfound skills and habits – let’s be real here, no leader does this unless there is a conscious effort on their part. 
  1. We then look at the outcomes of the experiments and see where the impact has been experienced across the business – using a tried and tested tool helps here. 
  1. We improve the formula, and we rinse and repeat until the habits are embedded – it’s about creating those synapses in our brain and building that muscle memory so we default to new habits during high-stressful periods.  

Ready to act? 

Being inclusive of any difference – be it gender, age, culture, or ability – will improve your organisation’s bottom line. 

But do your leaders truly understand what inclusive behaviour looks like, feels like, and sounds like? 

Do they willingly have courageous conversations to dive deeper into the difference their people have so that innovation, collaboration, productivity, wellness, and safety skyrockets? 

If not, then I encourage you to find out more about our Inclusion Habits for Leaders Program where we take your leaders and transform their ways of work so that they are more conscious of their micro-actions and understand how these can make a big impact. 

Apply here. 

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