Blurred vision through workplace glass ceiling

THERE is little doubt that the glass ceiling still exists within many organisations but there is an argument that new styles of management being adopted by organisations will remove it.

A search through WA Business News’ Book of Lists 2003 lists of the top WA public and private companies shows that none of the top 40 in either category has women in the key leadership roles.

There is also a growing body of academic and business literature high-lighting the benefits that diversity brings to organisations.

Evidence also exists that a lot of women are opting out of the leadership race and choosing to operate small businesses.

According to the Small Business Development Corporation, as at June 2001 there were 64,300 women operating small businesses in WA. There was an annual 17 per cent increase in the number of women operating small businesses between November 1999 and June 2001 – the highest increase for any Australian State or Territory.

Modal managing director Russell Rieck said he believed the new “post-modern” approach to leadership, which placed a higher emphasis on emotional intelligence, rather than the “modernist” approach, which placed an emphasis on accounting and technical skills, would help break the glass ceiling.

He said diversity was crucial to get the best from an organisation.

RSA Consulting CEO Rachel Smeeton said leaders could help remove the glass ceiling by giving workers a chance to get away from the day-to-day grind of work and find out what their mindsets were.

“I would say the glass ceiling is about finding out what mindsets hold us back. The four-minute mile is an example. Nobody could run the mile faster than that until somebody did it,” she said.

“People are all pretty well aware of equal opportunity best practice. It’s often ourselves that are holding ourselves back.

“You can’t necessarily transform the organisation but you can transform individuals within the organisation.”

Curtin Business School professorial fellow and former public sector CEO, Lynn Allen, said her impression was that the glass ceiling was not being removed. However, she said the female students that came through her classes were better educated and more motivated than women of her generation.

“More than 50 per cent of university students are female,” Professor Allen said.

“I do think at senior levels it becomes a bit of a critical mass issue.

“If you have only one woman on a board then she is not going to have much impact.

“CEOs need to realise that they need real diversity to get the best out of the organisation.”

Ms Allen said a lot of women were also opting out of tradition-al business roles and were not applying for them.

That is born out by anecdotal evidence, along with statistics from WA Business News’ Book of Lists.

Beilby CEO Rick Dunn said he was recently showing a client the applications that had come in for a managing director’s position.

“The client commented that none of the 40 applications we received was from a woman,” he said. “No women applied for the job.

“I think the glass ceiling is an organisational issue.

“We will put up a candidate for a job, be they male or female, if we think they are capable of doing the job.”

However, not every-body feels that the glass ceiling has been an impediment.

AOT Consulting chief executive officer Julie Faulkner said she did not doubt that the glass ceiling existed, it had just never affected her.

“Throughout my career I’ve found that if you prove yourself there is no problem,” she told WA Business News.

“I’ve represented a public company in Asia and never had a problem.”

p          Next week: Going back to school.

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