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Published 03 July 2012 13:11, Updated 05 July 2012 04:16
There are some female business leaders who refuse to have anything to do with stories about the so-called glass ceiling. They have no desire to position themselves in the media as standard bearers for women in business. Who can blame them? These are women who are successful in their own right and by their own effort and they have no desire to be defined by their gender.
These women are opening many more doors – to the extent that doors still need to be opened – by leading by example rather than shouting empty slogans from a soap box.
I find it difficult to believe – in fact, I do not believe – that young women completing their final years of secondary school harbour any doubts that they can be and do anything they like with their lives. It would amaze them that so many of their elders, male and female, experience so much angst about the blighted position of women in business and the professions.
Every time an activist calls for boardroom quotas for women they are sending a message to these girls that the moment they step outside the school gates for the last time the odds are going to be stacked against them simply because they are female. This may come as some surprise for those who are going on to university to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, scientists … in fact, whatever they want to be.
Whenever I have had any contact with senior schoolgirls and female university undergraduates, my impression is that these are confident, bright, self-assured and ambitious young people. Unlike those bleating adults who remain convinced that the world is a dark, horrible, bleak place for women, the young women about to enter the adult world place no such restrictions on their outlook.
I would hate to think that some of these young women – surrounded as they are once they step into the workforce by cries for quotas and warnings about the glass ceiling – will come to believe that the odds must indeed be stacked against them because they are women; that the fact they are not a chief executive by age 23 must prove that unseen evil men are pulling the strings that will forever stymie their careers.
Has it ever occurred to the self-interested quota activists, gender diversity consultants, academics and assorted other professional bleaters that they are poisoning the minds of young women embarking on their careers? They may even be providing succour to impressionable and misguided young men who in effect are being told that this is indeed their world; or causing resentment among young men in the workforce who believe they are being discriminated against by policies that favour women for advancement.
I look forward to the day when we no longer hear from the gender-diversity industry and its black armband view of women in business and the professions. Of course they will argue that when we reach a 50-50 gender split in company boardrooms and executive suites that their job will be done. The idealised dream of 50-50 representation of the sexes – that is, to reflect the population split – is statistical sophistry.
There are many issues that must be sorted in our workplaces – and this includes sexual harassment and acts of discrimination against women. But such behaviour, where it exists, does not prove the case of the gender-diversity industry and quota lobby. Sexual harassment and other appalling behaviours are not exclusively workplace issues; they are social issues and workplaces will necessarily reflect the ills of wider society.
When such behaviour against women in the workplace occurs, it must be rooted out in the same way that bullying, racism and other anti-social behaviour must be dealt with firmly and systematically.
However, there is less evidence that overt and institutionalised discrimination against women is keeping them from advancing in their chosen careers. The implied (and sometimes explicitly stated) assertion of a male conspiracy against women in business and the professions is beyond unproven; it is preposterous and paranoid.
The keys to career and professional opportunity for all lies in the quality of leadership, management, organisational policies and practices, and corporate culture.
As for carping gender-diversity activists, if only they could be dismissed as a noisy distraction. The danger is that those who continue to assert that business and the professions are hotbeds of male privilege are perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy.