The unrealistic expectations placed on female leaders and the need to celebrate what we do | Women's Agenda

The unrealistic expectations placed on female leaders and the need to celebrate what we do

This is an edited extract of a speech I gave at the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards luncheon Wednesday (5 October). See the winners of the awards here

So why do we need an awards program that specifically acknowledges emerging female leaders?  

For the same reason we need a publication dedicated to telling stories about the careers of women, to profiling those challenging the way we work, and offering perspectives from female leaders that might otherwise go unheard.

A publication that can name 1000 women for every recruiter, or headhunter or conference organiser who claims they can’t fine one.

An independent publication that shares news for women working across all sectors every single day.

We continue to live and work in a world where women’s voices are ignored, silenced or never have an option to speak in the first place.  

We continue to open newspapers to see men dominating the business sections, where a journalist can quote four to five sources for a story without including a single woman.  

We continue to see major business conferences that are dominated by men. 

We continue to see women grossly underrepresented in Parliaments. With just 18 of the Liberal Government’s 84 MPs female. Where a former prime minister only recently said women have “limits on their capacity” to serve in such roles.  

But more than anything, we continue to place a different level of expectation on women when it comes to leadership than we do on men. These expectations can turn some women off leadership.

I read a quote over the weekend following the first presidential debate that summed it up personally, from Michelle Vitalione.

“Imagine a woman who showed up [to a presidential debate] unprepared, sniffing like a coke addict and interrupting her opponent 70 time. Let’s further imagine that she’s had 5 kids by 3 men, was a repeated adulterer, had multiple bankruptcies, paid zero federal taxes and rooted for the housing crisis in which many thousand of families lost their hoes. Wait… there’s more: she has never held any elected office in her life.”  

We can’t imagine such a woman, because such a woman would never get anywhere close to a presidential debate.

All of this manifests of course in a lack of women in leadership, in both executive and non-executive positions. As the AICD revealed last week, 22 of our top 200 listed companies still can not find a single woman for their boards. We should have invited the chairs of such boards to this event today, something to remember for next year! 

It also manifests in women saying that ‘if the system can’t accommodate me, I’m going to live and work outside of the system. I’m going to lead a new type of team in a new type of office in new type of working week. I’m going to start my own business. I’m going to live and work my own way. I’m going to determine my own version of success.’

So that’s why we run these Awards, and why we publish stories every day on Women’s Agenda — to raise the voices of more women, to push for more female leaders in the future. And to change the narrative when it comes to how we live and how we work.

It’s not to give permission to a female version of Trump in the future – but rather to promote a new kind of role model and better kind of leadership that’s both male and female.

That leadership exists today. It’s here in this room.

So while we’re here to reveal the winners of these awards. We’re actually here to do something much bigger and more significant, to celebrate everything that’s wonderful about female leadership.

Congratulations to all our finalists. And thank you to all our supporters who made this program possible: Seek, the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Australian Graduate School of Management, Kailis, Power Ink Media, BT Financial’s Stella Network, Jetstar and Aim for the Stars. 

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