Time for enforced quotas in Canberra and the boardroom

I felt his hand underneath my skirt. This could not be happening when we are in the middle of a meeting, he is a senior board member and there are colleagues all around us.

Yet, there it was, inside my skirt, I pushed it away and when I challenged the behaviour, the response was: “I was interested in the fabric, my family works in textiles.”

Before the #MeToo movement, harassment in the workplace was often accepted.Credit:Nic Walker

Like so many women I took my complaint to management and was told to “hush” and not be a troublemaker, to think of my career.

This is the life of women in the workplace and too many of us have tales to tell of our backsides being grabbed at work functions, or a colleague or senior manager showing uncomfortable interest in us.

The behaviour has always been excused, explained away as being “accidental” or “he is just overly friendly”, with women expected to accept this behaviour as a norm, to not make a fuss.

In my work as a mentor and coach to executive women, as well as dealing with wandering hands and unwanted attention, women tell me they feel they are often not heard or listened to by male colleagues or senior management.

Women say they feel that they are often not heard or listened to by male colleagues or senior management.Credit:Virginia Star

No matter how senior their position, they are expected to keep notes in meetings and clear the plates and coffee cups after.

If they complain or find themselves in a strong verbal discussion, then they are seen as a “bitch” or “hysterical”. As women in the corporate world know, they must always tread carefully.

Men play by a different set of rules where aggression is seen as strength. A senior female executive I work with discovered this following a heated discussion with a colleague over workplace safety, despite his yelling, red face and spittle flying, it was the woman counselled about being aggressive.

It is why so many women, who have lived with this discrimination in the workplace throughout their careers, are so disappointed with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to the growing claims of sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour in Canberra.

Many women are disappointed with the Prime Minister’s response to claims of sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour in Parliament House.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

In the halls of power, the place where we make laws that should provide for a balanced and fair society for all, we see women treated as objects and victims blamed for being assaulted.

Despite all we put up with in the workplace, to hear that the Prime Minister needed his wife to tell him that sexual assault was a “bad thing” and that women marching for their voices to be heard are lucky to have not been shot, is devastating.

Now with desks in Parliament being assaulted, we finally hear of calls for action from within the Liberal government, as they contemplate bringing in a quota system that would see more women in Parliament.

More women working in the Canberra “bubble” can only be a good thing, both in the Parliament and just as importantly in senior roles in the offices of MPs.

Having more women in leadership is needed and will not only bring the culture change that is so needed, but also add a differing perspective and skills to these offices, which will ultimately have a positive impact on policy.

Take a look across the Tasman at New Zealand, where Jacinda Ardern, who demonstrates she cares deeply through active listening, emotional intelligence and clear communication, something that is so lacking from our Prime Minister.

Quotas should not be limited to Canberra, as we need greater diversity in all leadership positions, if we are to bring the cultural change we need across the country.

Today only 10 out of the top 200 companies listed on the ASX have female chief executives and women make up a miserly 12 per cent of management roles. The small number of women in these senior roles is not only appalling, but also falling.

If we are to address the cultural issues that we are seeing in the workplace, then the only way for significant change to happen is to put and end to the “boys club” through a parity of women to men in senior management positions.

There will be resistance to change, something I have felt first-hand, with it “mansplained” to me many times by men, ironically at “women in leadership” conferences, about why quotas won’t work, yet all research points to diverse workplaces being more productive and successful.

If we are to put an end to sexism and poor behaviour against women in the workplace then initiating quotas is the place to start, but not just as some aspirational target to which corporates give lip service. I am talking genuine quotas with real penalties for non-compliance.

The sort of penalties that keep CEOs and CFOs up at night as they suddenly see a real need for mentoring and career strategies that will drive women to senior management positions in their organisations.

If you want to win women back Prime Minister, then enforced quotas is the place to start.

Amanda Blesing is an author, mentor and executive coach.

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