I know that Gail Kelly has four children and that Ann Sherry has one child. I hazard a guess that few of us could name the number of children Maurice Newman, Tony Shepherd or the very public Gerry Harvey have.
The slowly improving stats regarding women in leadership is heartening. It seems that progress is being made, even under difficult circumstances. We can be assured that our girls and granddaughters will grow up seeing female role models at the top.
But despite all this we continue to see and hear scrutiny of leading women regarding their children. How do you manage at home? Who helps with the children? How do you get it all done? They’re questions that are almost never asked of men. Of course we could never simply presume that these women had supportive partners, like their male counterparts. Women do it all, so we are told.
I find this to be a frustrating, ongoing discussion. It both limits how we view female success but also shows that we cannot view women who happen to have children as anything more than a mother first. Above any sort of personal or professional success she will always be a mother. On the other hand, we often have little idea about the families senior businessmen have.
Even the CEO of the CSIRO, Dr Megan Clark, cannot escape this scrutiny. How about we get real? The way in which people manage their family does not inform us of their capacity as leaders.
With this continual focus directed only at women, progress on women in leadership will be slow, and assumptions regarding who should do what at home will continue. Women ought to be viewed in a wider sense. The idea of women succeeding in business as being “non-traditional” harms the prospects for women’s accomplishment. Challenging this paradigm will not be easy, but it can be done.
There is not necessarily anything wrong with asking women about their children, but there is an issue when only women are quizzed. To support a woman’s rise to the top we need to encourage her confidence and allow her to follow her instincts.
Reaching the top or having it all is about coming to conclusions on what we want as individuals, not what is expected of us. For some people that means a life without children, and that is just fine.
Next time you have the opportunity, ask a man how he manage his home life on top of working commitments. Chances are that he will reference a supportive partner. Or perhaps he too has something to offer on managing the work/life juggle.