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Queen’s Birthday Honours List – why twice as many men as women were recognised for the difference they make to their communities and what employers, women and men need to know about this.

Congratulations to the almost 500 recipients of the Queen’s Birthday 2010 Honours List, announced on Monday by the Governor-General. The list provides national and formal recognition for many Australians who have made a significant difference to their communities. There is no better privilege than to serve one’s nation, and I applaud the contribution of each and every recipient – these are the people that contribute to the beauty of being Australian.

I took the time to browse through the list, recognising many well-known names and also many quiet achievers who are obviously making a difference in the work they are doing.  And I noticed that only half as many women as men were recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year.  Which made me think…. why?

Maybe it’s a simple case that only half as many women as men were considered suitable for the awards.  But I doubt it.  In my job as the SheEO of sphinxx, I’m surrounded by amazing women who are all making outstanding contributions to their communities and workplaces.  I’ve also worked with fantastic men as well, who also contribute in wise and wonderful ways.  But twice as many?  I’m not sure.  So why twice as many men as women on the list?

Maybe only half as many women as men were nominated for the awards.  Anyone can nominate an Australian citizen for an award in the Order of Australia (click here ) if you’d like to find out more about nominating) and since women comprise half of the Australian population, it seems reasonable that women would submit half of the nominations and receive half of the nominations.  But my gut feel is this isn’t the case.

The rationale for this is as important for employers looking to find and keep the best women on their teams as it is for those who compile the Honours Lists.

See, I have a feeling that women are more likely to nominate men for recognition such as the Order of Australia awards than they will women; and I think men are more likely to nominate men than women as well.  For different reasons though.  And why does this matter?  Because I’ve observed that many individuals selected for directorships and leadership roles in our workplaces and communities are Order of Australia recipients, or at least are comfortable in seeking recognition for the contribution they’ve made.

Let’s start with the women: why are women less likely to recognise women? I think it’s simply that many women don’t recognise their own contributions, so it’s possible they also won’t notice the achievements of other women around them. Or they think “I manage to do all these other things – so what’s so special about someone else doing the same?” Many women were raised with the thinking that nice girls don’t boast.  And women are also busy with the multiple dimensions of their lives: working twice as hard to be considered half as good, communicating twice as hard to be heard in environments where they’re significantly outnumbered, running households without the help of a “wife”, parenting and trying to make up lost ground when they return from maternity leave… so on and so on and so on.  Perhaps they simply don’t have the time to nominate anyone!  And if they do, they’ll nominate in the stereotype of leadership portrayed in the media, our top companies and boardrooms: the common denominator being male.

What about men?  I think men are less likely to nominate women because they are so used to women working hard behind the scenes to make stuff happen they don’t even notice it any more.  Many of my most inspiring mentors (who also happened to be male) told me over the years they loved having talented women on their teams because women make them look good: they get stuff done efficiently, without fuss, and without the need for copious recognition and praise.  It’s a case of behind every great man is a team of great women. The down side is that because women don’t demand recognition, they often won’t get it.  And make no mistake – they may be disappointed when it’s not forthcoming and they’ll tell everyone about it from their girlfriends to their husband, mothers, sisters, brothers… everyone except their boss! This is why bosses are often so surprised when women tell them they’re leaving for another job – it’s often the first sign they’ve had that the woman is even remotely dissatisfied.

In my own experience of managing other people, men were much more likely to point out to me and their peers and family and friends – even the woman on the street – all the good work they’re doing. They’ll point out their wins, the hard work, the great feedback they get – much more than women will.  Good on them too: they want to be recognised and they’re prepared to put their hand out to ask for it.  Are other men and women around them also doing good work?  Quite possibly, and as a boss I always try to notice that.  But one thing’s for sure in business – and in our community, it seems – the squeaky wheel still gets oiled.

So what does this all mean for advancing women as leaders?

  1. For women – you need to start by first recognising your own achievements.  Keep a list of your “little wins” in the back of your daily meeting book, so you can rattle them off when you bump into your boss in the lift.  And if you manage women, encourage them to do the same and to make this a habit.
  2. For men: you should take notice of who is making things happen in your workplaces and communities, and make sure they are getting the recognition they deserve.  If women are working away behind the scenes, help them to put their good work on display.  Ask questions about their achievements and ambitions and follow up over time.
  3. For employers: realise that women may not be as good at self-promotion as some of their male peers, but they still appreciate and respond positively to recognition.  You will be more likely to find and keep talented women on your team if you seek to understand and reward the contribution they make – and if you go to lengths to understand and use this input in processes such as succession planning.
  4. For community programs – encourage women to put their hands up and be noticed.  Give them guidelines of good submissions others have made before them so they can understand what they’re up against and how important it is to sing their praises.
  5. And finally for the readers of this post – it’s not too late to recognise the contribution of those wonderful women around you who are making a difference.  Nominate them for next year’s awards (we’ll have more to say about this over the coming months) or why not simply post a comment here and tell the world who you think is making a difference in Australia’s communities and workplaces.  We’d love to shine the spotlight on them!

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