Diversity and Inclusivity are certainly words high on the agenda and over the course of the year I was involved in many conversations that looked at barriers for young professional women.
My observations from these conversations with industry bodies, board members, young professional women and organisations focusing on gender diversity are that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
Consistently over the year I posed the questions: “Is it that young women can’t pursue more senior career opportunities i.e. don’t have the skills, experience or opportunities? Or is it that they don’t have the desire to do so?”
To date, most gender diversity initiatives have focused on the first of these two questions by implementing training and development programs, mentor relationships and internal working groups aimed at removing roadblocks. Few have focused on the very important matter of desire.
Personally, I recall a time early in my finance career when the question of desire surfaced. For me – within the corporate landscape in which I was working – staying in or aspiring to reach greater heights in my career was never a question of skill. I had to really want to achieve and desire career growth in my chosen field, aside from the necessary skills I’d have to acquire along the way.
The questions I asked myself back in those early career days over 13 years ago were relevant to who I was as a young professional and my work experience back then, but I do believe some are very relevant questions that women are asking themselves today.
Do I want to be the only female, or one of a small few, on an all male board or executive team?
Do I want to work long hours and weekends that may result in my sacrificing personal and family relationships?
Do I want to become or portray a hard, unemotional woman to compete and succeed with others?
Do I want to dedicate that much energy to the success of a career and how that will compromise other areas of my life?
Do I want to put that much pressure on my physical, emotional and mental health?
Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In talked of these competing tensions (which it’s important to note are relevant for both men and women) in saying that “Every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is to avoid unnecessary sacrifice.”
So, what does unnecessary sacrifice look like and how do we avoid it?
Firstly, organisations have an important role in this area to ensure that both culture and process do not prescribe unnecessary sacrifice for individuals to achieve success. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is essential to empower individuals to manage this process.
Over the coming weeks YPWA are rolling out a study examining attitudes and obstacles facing professional women and their career progression in Australia. The purpose of the research study is to help us understand the key challenges faced by women in the Australian working environment and then, more importantly, do something to help make this better for everyone.
We invite both Australian men and women to be involved in this important research which can be accessed at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/YPWA2014.