It’s widely understood that women are unlikely to apply for a position unless we tick at least nine out of ten boxes on the skills requirements list while men are likely to put their hand up if their experience satisfies just three. We place enormous pressure on ourselves to be out-of-the-box perfect from day one. I have seen this time and again in the teams I have managed. I often promote or hire managers who show promise. The men rarely have self-doubt. The women almost always do.
To date we have been happy to blame ourselves for this. ‘Typical women’, we say of ourselves, ‘always needing to tick every box’. It has almost been a badge of honour. What’s better than being well-equipped for a job and then delivering early?
But in recent times I have come to believe that most women are like this because that is how we have been rewarded along the way. This requirement to be perfect is the result of expectations placed upon us from the moment that first opportunity for a promotion is presented. It doesn’t seem to matter how many runs we get on the board, we still need to show that little bit extra to take the risk out of our appointment. There is no one who can convince me this is the same for men when the person making the appointment is a man, generally speaking. I acknowledge that there are some quite high-profile exceptions to this rule on both sides of the gender fence.
It was a male CEO early in my career who saw something in me that caused him to offer me a very senior line management role in his executive team when my successes up to that point had been wholly as an editor. That appointment was the catalyst for this second stage of my media career. He took a risk with me and I will forever be grateful that he threw me in the deep end.
But my experience since then when working for men has been almost entirely the opposite. And the risk factor has not been applied as rigorously to the men I have worked alongside.
A recent conversation with an organisation specializing in board recruitment confirmed that this is also the case for women pursuing non-executive careers. The recruitment executive actually used the word ‘risk’ when discussing why it’s difficult for new women to crack an ASX company directorship. It all depends on the chair’s appetite for risk apparently. Taking on a smart female executive dedicated to good governance with no other large company board commitment poses a greater risk than a male director with six other ASX board commitments?
A friend who is pursuing a full-time non-executive career was asked how she thought she could possibly manage more than three directorships – only one of which is an ASX company. Did that question come up during any of Nick Greiner’s appointments to ASX Boards? There is no way that the men with a long list of public company directorships can perform each of them to perfection. So why are women expected to?
Do you feel the need to always be perfect in order to progress?