Why Australia Needs To Take Off The Glass Slipper

While women at work are trying to crack through their idea of a glass ceiling, there’s a little glass slipper vying for our attention too. The Glass Slipper effect, propounded by Karen Ashcraft and expounded in her keynote address at the National Centre for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Summit, is very real and deserves redress.

The Glass Slipper Analogy

The Glass slipper brings to focus the tip of ‘balance’ when women try to fit into ‘male congenial roles.’ The analogy of trying to put on a slipper that simply doesn’t fit is apt; the roles have already been defined against women even before they attempted to try it on.

Women as firefighters, for example. In most minds, they don’t fit the “role.” To the question, “Do you think women can be firefighters too?” one respondent says: “women can make adequate firefighters, even great ones, and in many cases far out perform their male counterparts in their primary function, which tends to be emergency medical response and patient care… Women firefighters have also been shown to be more successful at diffusing volatile situations encountered by fire/medical people because they have a calming affect… How about confined spaces? Crawl spaces, attics, etc… Would there be an advantage to a smaller in stature female in an ability to access those areas?” And yet, firefighting is considered to be a male congenial occupation. That is the glass slipper effect.

Australia’s glass slipper

45.9% of the full-time labour force in Australia is made up of women, but a mere 3.5% of CEOs of ASX500 companies are women. Glass slipper effect? Definitely so. As the numbers show, leadership roles are still considered to be more suitable for the male workforce. According to the “Australian Census of Women in Leadership”, gender parity in CEO roles is expected to be reached by the year 2343, which is still a long way to go.

The glass slipper effect extends to more than roles in an organisation; it encompasses entire industries. Here is a look at the percentage of women and men in various sectors in Australia. Looks great on the Health Care front but take a look at the Mining industry – 14%.

Glass slipper? Yes.

Does it matter? Yes it does; the mining sector has been the greatest contributor to the Gross State Product (GSP) in Australia, at a whopping 30%. Therefore, it is a definite cause of concern that a majority of the women workforce is being excluded from the biggest industry in Australia.

And is the glass slipper warranted? Research by Women in Mining (UK) research showed the benefits of having a more gender diverse board in the mining industry: “Of the top 500 mining companies surveyed, the 18 mining companies with 25% or more of their board comprised of women had an average net profit margin for the 2011 financial year that was 49% higher than the average net profit margin for all top 500 mining companies … those mining companies with female board members have a higher average profit margin overall (23%) than the average net profit margin for the top 100 mining companies (20%).”

There is a clear need for Australia to take off the glass slipper when it comes to the balance of women in the workforce.


Good Leaders Foster Talent

appearance and leadershipIt is probably without argument that the most valuable resource within a business is its people and the talent that resides in them.

The Chief Executive of South African retail chain Woolworths, the owners of David Jones, says ‘you can only achieve anything through people. You have to surround yourself with the best people. You can never do anything on your own. I do not think you can ever have enough talent within a business’.

The defining contribution good leaders can make with employees is to boost their engagement and encourage those who have talent to make a contribution above and beyond their day to day tasks.

Engaged talented people can have a direct impact on the bottom line. They can lead to engaged clients, which leads to better sales, innovation and better internal efficiency.

Ideally employees should not just be skilled in performing the steps needed to accomplish specific tasks but also have the talent to achieve agreed outcomes and contribute to the team’s effort.

Even so, not every employee has to be ambitious. There are a lot who are content to work within their capabilities and have little ambition to go beyond what they are currently doing. Nonetheless they should still be recognised for their contribution and be encouraged to take pride in their work.

Good leaders see beyond just being satisfied with employees performing the specific tasks they are paid to perform, instead they look beyond this and search for those with talent. Those who can improve the way the job is currently being done, who challenge the status quo, look for better ways to perform their tasks, embrace innovation and strive to improve internal processes.

Natural talent within a person can often be hidden because the work they do does not demand they use it. The job of a good leader is to uncover who has talent and develop it. Failure to capitalise on the opportunity can often result in talented employees becoming disengaged, losing motivation and eventually moving on.

When recruiting employees it is inherent for most leaders to appoint new hires just because they appear to have the skills needed to carry out a position, whereas good leaders select them for the talent they can bring to the job. The extra you may have to pay them will reward you in the long run.

Here are some steps to take in developing talent;

  • First, identify what extra is needed from your people that will help the organisation to achieve its long term goals and sustainability
  • In an informal way really get to know the identified people who you judge have talent. Ask them about their past roles, what achievements they are most proud of and what they consider are their best skills. What it is they try to avoid doing. Pose the question as to where they plan to be in 5 and 10 years from now. Where they believe they can add value to the business. Ask the question ‘What do they think we can do better?’
  • Give them an insight into your strategic goals and ask for feedback. Measure the responses
  • Consider what you have learned about them during the discussions and what you need to put in motion that will make a valuable contribution to the success of the organisation and will contribute to them achieving their aspirations
  • Let them know your plan and agree to meet regularly to discuss progress and any barriers that maybe preventing you and them from achieving the key initiatives.

Just having these discussions will give the talent a feeling of self-worth. More importantly it should lift morale and kick your organisation’s performance up a few notches through improved productivity.

The author of this article is Ken Meek a BCD mentor and Principal of M2 Strategic Management