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Women, work and leadership – will history repeat itself?

Thanks to those of you who commented on my post last week about Facebook shunning women on its board (and this follow up post), and my boycott request.  This comment from Katie I think is worth discussing, because it’s possibly been on your mind too: “I like the idea in isolation, but in the bigger context… Not sure I get it… So will you also close down your bank accounts and associations with any other organisations who don’t have women on their boards? Facebook appears to be your target because it is relatively easy. Interested in your thoughts.”

It’s a great point, Katie, and my response is an emphatic YES!!  That is actually precisely what I’ve been advocating for over the past five years since I began this blog.  And now, more than ever, there’s never been a better time for women to vote with their feet and their purse strings

As a consumer, I question the logic of a company that fails to include representation on its board from its majority of users: women.  Recent research by Macquarie Bank shows that 74% of women make or share all of the financial decision-making in Australian households.  If a business wants to tap into this 74% of buyers, it needs to really know them well. Not just a little bit.  Not just in passing.  But really know them, their behaviours, their habits, what they like and dislike, how they’re likely to respond…

I believe that’s one of the reasons that companies with more women on their boards have a return on shareholders equity up to 44% higher – because they are tapping into their customers more effectively.

The Facebook example to me was worth singling out: not because it’s an easy target (actually I think the opposite is true – who can argue that Facebook hasn’t been successful? Yet who’s to say it couldn’t be a better organisation if it had more diversity in its strategic thinking?) But to me, Facebook is a perfect example of why it is wrong to assume that the future will be different for women in leadership simply because GenY will demand more.

We all know that a major barrier to progression for women in established business is the history: that most organisations were created by men, for the men who worked there, and women have had to find a way to fit into this model.

Yet the assumption that Gen Y will likely provide “the sea change we’ve hoped for” I think is flawed, and Facebook is living proof that nothing will change the gender imbalance in leadership without conscious change.  If we don’t consiously seek change, then I think that women are at a serious danger of history repeating itself.

There’s also an equity issue here: do you want to support businesses that aren’t giving women the same opportunities as men?  For me, that is important and so – yes Katie – I would close my bank accounts if the organisations I currently bank with decided to remove women from their Boards.  I hope that you would too.

I’ve put out the call to action before to understand which companies you have an interest in (directly or via your super funds), to boycott those companies with no women on their boards, to attend AGMs and ask the question “where are the women”. And generally to expect gender balance for all the advantages it delivers.

My guess is that women don’t understand just how much power they hold, how much opportunity they have to drive change.

The question is, are you prepared to do something with it?

Your thoughts?

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