Men think women are holding themselves back | Women's Agenda

Men think women are holding themselves back

With all of the talk and ongoing debate about women in leadership, we decided it was time to take a closer look at what is really going on in Australia. So we surveyed 1,000 men and women about their attitudes to work, leadership and their real feelings behind women moving up the ladder.

Some of the results of the research — a combination of online questionnaires and offline interviews conducted with working professionals — were as we thought they would be. But some were quite shocking, even to us.

The Australian Pulse of Women in Leadership found Australian men believe women are failing to make the move into leadership roles because they have difficulty juggling work/life commitments, lack qualifications and are less ambitious.

Sixty two per cent of men want to see more women in leadership, yet almost three quarters of those same men believe there is a level playing field in the workplace, and that women have the same opportunities they do to move into leadership positions.

Meanwhile, the survey found only 35% of women believe they have the same career opportunities as their male counterparts – a massive disconnect about the realities women perceive as they show up at work each day.

The pressure of having to fit into traditional models of leadership that don’t serve the, well is also having an effect on productivity and women’s wellbeing, with 85% of Australian businesswomen saying they are just functioning, rather than flourishing in their career.

With burnout an ever present risk for working women, whether they are parents or not, having such a large percentage of women just getting through the day, but not thriving in it, should be a significant wake-up call for employers and women everywhere.

One of the few survey results where men and women saw eye to eye was on the proposition that Australian businesses would benefit if there were more women in leadership positions. Organisations both here in Australia and around the world are finally coming to understand the bottom-line value of feminine traits – such as openness, empathy, collaboration, flexibility and patience – to improve engagement and productivity in our workplaces.

KPMG economists estimate approaches like these that help employees to feel more motivated, supported and appreciated could be worth up to $305 billion annual in productivity gains for our economy.

Interestingly, out of all of the suggested approaches to address the leadership imbalance, the Pulse found men and women strongly agreed that quotas were the least preferred method to create more female leadership opportunities.

What we know for sure from our work and from these results is that it’s time for a new conversation. This is not about which gender makes better leaders, and it’s time we evolved from trying to ‘fix the women’ or stamp out gender bias in men.

Instead Australian businesses need to embrace the emerging concept of gender intelligence, which means understanding the unique qualities both men and women bring to the leadership table and collectively harnessing these for the greater good.

And businesses need to get serious about embracing feminine leadership traits that people the world over, including in Australia, are screaming for in their leaders.

So what can women do? As a start, try these five tips for embracing female leadership traits at work today.

Five tips for embracing female leadership traits

  1. Invest in kindness. Improve the mood of your business by performing at least five kind acts a day.
  2. Develop people’s strengths. Get to know your staff and discover what people like doing.  Use this to craft their jobs, arrange training and provide feedback around these strengths.
  3. Value appreciation. Genuinely thank one person each day for making your job easier or more enjoyable and be specific about what they did that you appreciated to lower stress around the office.
  4. Cultivate meaning. Give your leaders a sense of purpose by having them clearly define their behavior and the goal they wish to achieve, for example: Everything I do is to ensure my team members feel supported at work, so they are more satisfied in their job and more productive
  5. Ignite hope. Reduce negativity by empowering staff to feel confident in challenging the insecurities and beliefs that may be holding them back: “Is that the only explanation for what’s unfolding?”

For a detailed roadmap on how to begin the journey, you can access the free whitepaper Unleashing the Butterfly Effect for Women and Work at, where you can also get the full results of The Australian Pulse of Women in Leadership.

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