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Why we need to take action to protect the pipeline of female leaders

by Guest on December 2, 2015

Unless we collaborate, the lack of female leaders now will drastically affect the pipeline of female leaders for tomorrow. There will be no funneling of talent, no monitoring or active sponsoring of younger women– because the senior female leaders simply won’t be there to see these things put in place.

The lost investment in talent – in smart, savvy, knowledgeable and strong women who are able to make a difference and ensure that equality is kept – is astonishing, and yet organisations are willing to let this happen and incur the cost to re-recruit versus retain. The reduction in the effectiveness of collaborative business is also clear, with the ‘female voice’ being lost and key characteristics and strengths disappearing from the process.

The disappearing female leader means a management team devoid of perspective. Decision-making is one-dimensional. Discussions around innovation, new product development, marketing and consumer engagement strategies become gender-silo’d.

The reality is this. The infamous glass ceiling is still firmly in place, and unless we all collectively engage and take action it is never going to develop more than a few cracks.

So what action is needed?

1. Step out of status quo

It’s easy to get trapped in the comfort zone and the place of status quo. The place of no change, of stagnation. But what it also means is a lack of forward thinking, a lack of opportunity to evolve, to do things differently. It is those leaders and organisations that are willing to challenge themselves, who make themselves accountable for their own success, which recognise the need to reach that little bit further or higher, who know that change has to happen. It is those who take the leap, who are able to collaborate with others to mutual commercial benefit with confidence.

…there has been acknowledgement that women are actually more suited for leadership within some roles as their skillsets are essential to the work being done

The Australian Defence Force has in many ways been a groundbreaker when it comes to challenging the status quo and forcing change to happen. There is no position now within the Australian Army that is not open to females. There is no distinction between men and women when it comes to criteria for promotion and there has been acknowledgement that women are actually more suited for leadership within some roles as their skillsets are essential to the work being done – for example, with displaced women and children within warzones.

2. Change the attitude of the C-suite

The attitude of those at a C-suite level is of prime importance in encouraging others within the company to see the need for more women in leadership roles. This applies equally to men and women, but perhaps in different ways. In terms of males in senior positions, the way they think, act and behave is giving direct influence to younger males in the organisation. If they openly support equality within senior management, and understand the value of women in those roles, then they are setting an example for the next generation to follow.

3. Don’t sit back – speak up

The only way we are going to accelerate the rate of change is to raise our voices and our actions at the same time.  It’s time women (and men) started speaking out about their own terms of employment and asking the hard questions. The whole ‘it’s not nice to talk about money’ politeness needs to be thrown out the window. Have the discussion – talk openly about salaries. The gender pay gap in Australia is sitting at 18.2 percent, down from and average of 85.2 cents 10 years ago. We are actually going backwards in terms of wage equity. If we don’t speak out, we are not leaning out, being brave, or showing willingness to have the courageous conversations that will drive the change that is needed.

The gender pay gap in Australia is sitting at 18.2 percent, down from and average of 85.2 cents 10 years ago.

4. Lean out – collaborate more

One sex is not effective without the other in terms of truly making change happen. Instead of an argument about inequality, why can’t this be a discussion about equality, about together how we can drive change? It is not enough, in the words of the amazing Sheryl Sandberg, to ‘lean in’ for future-proofing our success, our businesses and our careers. As leaders who are taking teams into an uncertain future it’s now about leaning out and collaborating with others. Because to lean out means to embrace and engage on an unforeseen aggregated level — where thinking bigger than ever before will bring rewards to a collective commercial mind. Where diversity and difference of opinion is actually the competitive advantage.

5. Own brand YOU

The biggest killer of confidence in business, as in any of life’s journeys, is when we start to doubt ourselves, and the path that we are on. It’s very easy to simply shrug and say to ourselves ‘well, if someone says  ‘you’re simply not good enough’ then it must be true’. If we are to create the organisations that we want to work within that we want others to enjoy being part of, and to build a company that is more than just the service or the product that is being sold, the soul of the organisation, its integrity has to permeate everything….and its more than just words.  Confidence in the leadership of self is essential.

Confidence in the leadership of self is essential.

6. Engage with sponsorship

On the whole, organisations are not providing enough active mentoring and sponsoring for the younger women coming up through the ranks, and through this lack of duty of care, they are committing sabotage.

Time and time again in countless studies continue to show that when sponsorship is a part of workplace culture, like sponsors like, and it is borne out if you take a look around any large company. Gender sponsors gender and it even comes down to ethnicity sponsoring ethnicity. So, if the company has a 70:30 male:female ratio of senior management, then 70% of those sponsored are automatically going to be male. Take those numbers further down, because of course the percentage of managers who actually take on a sponsorship role is perhaps 25%, and you are looking at a very small funnel of female talent.

Gender sponsors gender and it even comes down to ethnicity sponsoring ethnicity.

Companies need to be more active in their attitude of engagement when it comes to developing the sponsor / sponsee relationship. We must support each other wholeheartedly through networks. We must sponsor, mentor and nurture those younger women coming through the ranks and create a future pipeline of female leaders

Leaders everywhere need to listen to what the women in society and in business are saying right now. Explore the possibilities of what diversity and 100% involvement could bring – how the benefits of a collaborative society and workplace, one that is well-rounded, well influenced and well distributed, can widen perspective and create opportunities that have not as yet been tapped in to. Men and women should work collaboratively at a leadership level; it’s what makes teams – and decisions – great. Women’s ‘soft skills’ as leaders – to empathise, to compartmentalise, and to bring diverse groups together – should never be underestimated, along with our ‘hard’ business skills.

The increasing affluence of women is challenging us all to adapt and realign ourselves to the needs of a new society. Engaging women in the workplace, especially at the leadership level, is an essential part of the collaborative economy.

Janine Garner is a businesswoman and entrepreneur, passionate about the return to open and transparent corporate relationships and the power of commercial collaboration in future-proofing careers and businesses. Janine is the author of From Me To We – Why commercial collaboration will future-proof business, leaders and personal success published by Wiley. She is the Founder and CEO of LBDGroup and works with senior leaders to build high performing teams.

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