A woman seen as 'too nice' made redundant, another with kids 'too young' to get promoted: This is still IWD reality in 2022

A woman ‘too nice’ made redundant, another with kids ‘too young’ overlooked: This is still International Women’s Day reality in 2022

"We are informed we can be too emotional, yet ironically it's the men that hold us back from achieving more with their drama and politics." 

As we approach this year’s International Women’s Day and I contemplate the theme #breakthebias, I am filled with pure unadulterated rage.

I think back to when discussing development of talent in my broader team, one of my peers brought up the name of a top performer and he said “She’s fantastic. So diligent, does everything we need and more. I just think it will just be better for her in a few years when her kids are older to think about development and leadership opportunities then”. That was a few weeks ago.

Or when an incredible leader, widely considered to be top talent and someone who possessed those unicorn-like skills of having both high IQ and EQ, was made redundant. Not for her lack of capabilities, an ability to deliver outcomes or lead a high performing team. She does all of those things to the highest possible standard. But because she was “too nice”. That was this week.

In both instances, the leaders making these calls were men. And both of them would consider themselves to be allies in this fight. 

The first step of fixing a problem is to admit it exists. If anything, the problem is now worse than ever.

Over 20 years ago, I left uni and entered the workforce in IT, where I stayed for almost two decades and I got used to being the 10% representation in the room. I was told I was too nice to ever be good at my job, and then of course later told I was too bossy to be respected. I was overlooked for the overseas celebration of the project I led because I was pregnant, when people who had no activity on the project were invited instead of me. And I sucked it up. I believed this was the modern workforce, it was 2016 after all. 

In every company I’ve worked in, I’ve been identified as ‘talent’. One to develop, coach and grow, a future leader of our organisation! In recent days, I’ve realised that being on a talent list is the same as being on a hit list. 

My best war story was being invited to a special sit down with the CEO to discuss how to support women advancing in their technology careers. I was so excited to be recognised as someone who had a voice worth listening too, so I prepared for three weeks ahead of the session. Just myself and four other women sat with him. I shared with him what I believed to be were the key issues as well as my low-cost ideas for change. After all, I don’t just want to be seen as complaining, I’m constructive too. See?! A good girl.

The session turned sour when he invited one of the participants back to his hotel to continue the discussion that night. We exchanged looks. Whilst it obviously didn’t seem right, we knew something else was afoot. A test.

This CEO went on to tell us that because we are women we cannot expect to network the way men do, which by his definition seemed to be by going to hotel bars with senior leaders. After all, women have home duties and also can’t be trusted not to try and take down men in some kind of sting operation. Therefore we had very little opportunity of progressing in our careers, not just at this company but anywhere we chose to work.

This was during peak #MeToo, the poor man was terrified that we were out to get him. The idea that all we wanted was to be treated with respect in the workplace was unfathomable to him.

He then went on to tell us that he’d gotten the idea for this test with an organisation he was a member of, with CEOs of the top 50 companies in Australia, where a key agenda item was about the development of women and supporting their leadership aspirations. Meaning, this test was executed with a lot more than the five of us, in many other top tier Australian companies.

When I returned to the office and informed my manager, and his manager, I was taken aside “he didn’t mean it like that” and “what he meant was…..”. 

No. This CEO openly admitted to discriminating against women. He also got a multi million dollar bonus that year. This was 5 years ago.

At my current job, when I started my leader was a woman. Her leader was a woman. And her leader was a woman. Never in my life had I had such strong female representation, and I was so inspired I would bring my daughter to work in the school holidays so that she could see this in action. 

Within three years, all three women have been shoved unceremoniously out the door and the company has not followed due process in doing so. They’re not the only ones, with many more redundancies or forced out due to a toxic culture. I’m not naive, I understand the need for change, but I am increasingly frustrated when companies consistently behave in a way that violates their own policies and they still demand more from their people. But it’s hard to uncover the pattern when the cover-ups are applied. 

Every woman I’ve ever worked for and with has a single focus of wanting to do their job well and achieve the outcomes set. We are informed we can be too emotional, yet ironically it’s the men that hold us back from achieving more with their drama and politics. 

The only way we can #breakthebias is to have these leaders held to account for their actions. Discrimination against women not only violates company policies, it is a crime. How often do you hear of senior leaders being prosecuted for violating the Sex Discrimination Act 1984? 

Per Fair Work Australia,  “The maximum penalty for contravention of the unlawful discrimination protections is $66,600 per contravention for a corporation, and $13,320 per contravention for an individual.” 

So maybe that’s what we need to do. We need to remain ever vigilant and document every single time a female is unfairly treated, so that we can hold companies to account and achieve a true outcome.

We aren’t going to be “too nice” anymore. 

The author is known to Women’s Agenda but has requested to remain anonymous.

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