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Beating the Bias: The Glass Ceiling effect and its impact on women in the workplace

Publication Date: Tuesday, 8 March 2022
This article originally appeared in Dynamic Business

While it is well known that women continue to face barriers to progress in the workplace—and in many other aspects of society. Women have been attempting to defy societal norms and expectations. 

They have marched and fought for their rightful place in society. The #MeToo movement has started to undo centuries of patriarchy, but we still have a long way to go, especially in the workplace, where the “glass ceiling” still exists. 

Despite the fact that many countries around the world have begun to take steps toward eradicating patriarchy and establishing equality, gender parity is unlikely to be achieved in our lifetimes; according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, gender parity will not be achieved for another 99.5 years.

We asked women entrepreneurs to share their perspectives on the less-discussed workplace challenges that women face as employees and leaders.

Taryn Williams, Founder & CEO, WINK Models,

“There is a concept that was raised by Annabel Crabb in her book ‘The Wife Drought’ which I think rings very true, often females are the ones who are also the primary caregiver at home, and seem to take on the main burden of household chores too. 

“Whereas men often have a ‘wife’ who does a lot of these things, which makes it easier to succeed in their careers as they have more time, energy and the capacity to pursue career advancement.

“I think a way to overcome it can be acknowledging this as a very real hindrance for women and to build systems and functions to support/re-establish the balance. For example, free childcare provided by workplaces, drycleaning provided by employers, meals available at work, flexible work hours or job share, and then also acknowledging it within relationships so that there is a better split of responsibilities so that both the male and females can succeed in their career and succeed at home.”

Natalie Sheehan – Head Of Distribution at Brighten Home Loans

“Industry culture can have a big impact on the confidence of women at work. It is important for women to be empowered in the workplace. Dismantling workplace environments and systems that were not originally built for women, for example, the financial services industry is an important step towards building healthier organisations.  

“My advice to women who are facing similar challenges is to believe in yourself.  I truly believe that success comes down to confidence in your own capabilities.  

“External validation will not always be there, that is why you need the confidence to put yourself forward for opportunities, a thick skin, mental toughness, perseverance and to recognise that not all working environments are the right place for you. When that happens, seek out an organisation that recognises the importance of gender diversity and provides access to female role models and mentors.” 

Lily Clarke, System Engineer, SAS ANZ 

“We often talk about gender representation in STEM organisations, and while we have certainly witnessed the industry make progress towards a more equal ratio, the presence of females in technical and technical leadership roles is often underrepresented. At SAS however, I’m inspired by the business focus in this area, on areas including career and leadership development, collaboration and networking.

“A challenge often faced with women in leadership roles specifically is mentoring opportunities. More often than not, women are paired with women – while this promotes story-sharing and unity, it also places limitations on opportunities to speak with like-minded individuals who share experience, goals and interests, irrespective of gender.

“While this is almost certainly the result of slowly evolving unconscious bias alongside a lack of females following STEM careers, the issue can be addressed by creating forums of like-minded contributors to form a supportive community. For instance, SAS’ Women’s Initiative Network is a diverse group of people focused on empowering, encouraging and inspiring women to pursue excellence in their careers.”

Daphne Ng, CEO and Co-Founder of Dedoco 

“Technology is the core of the digital economy. Working in a male-dominated industry where women only make up around 30% in STEM, it’s critical to have representation in a sector where I see the future of work headed. The rapid digital advancement of our world provides an abundance of opportunities, which is why I want to help drive diversity in this field.

“Growing up in a family business environment, I understood the importance of guidance and leadership from early on, which also laid the foundation of my journey to becoming the CEO of a technology start-up. 

“Furthermore, I want to keep encouraging women to pursue careers in technology, which is why we launched a Girls-in-Tech (GIT) Hub in January of this year. It’s a forum for inspiring, nurturing, and mentoring the company’s female employees to cultivate an empowered team.”

Tamara Oppen, Managing Director Australia at GoDaddy

“Shifting unconscious bias is a societal issue we can all help address. At GoDaddy, our culture is built on respect and individuality, where employees are encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work every day. 

“Equitable compensation, work-life integration, policies around diversity, equity and inclusion along with strong role models across the business, are essential for helping to ensure women can succeed. The culture needs to be part of an organisation’s DNA, with a commitment to customers, employees and the communities they support.  

“Ensuring women are remunerated fairly in recognition of their work, equal to their male peers, is also important. This is the seventh year GoDaddy has achieved pay parity across the organisation. Since first reporting gender and salary data in 2015, our gender representation has grown by seven per cent. If we come together and support each other, we can affect positive change.”

Trish Trainor, Engineering Manager at Dovetail

“More often than not, technology is a male-dominated industry. With this, comes unconscious bias and limited opportunities for women. I’m fortunate enough to work at Dovetail, a company where almost half of our tech employees are women. 

“There is still more that organisations can do to eliminate unconscious bias in the workplace and to create more meaningful opportunities for women. I believe organisations need to proactively offer more opportunities for women in tech and business to thrive. As an organisation, this can be through advocating for mentorships, leadership or additional training and support.

“As an individual, it’s essential to recognise that we all play a part in overcoming unconscious bias in the workplace, regardless of gender. This can be achieved by consciously looking at how you can contribute to providing space for women to thrive in an organisation in day-to-day scenarios to ensure the micro-inequities that occur are eliminated. 

“I’m looking forward to a time when we don’t have to wait for one day a year to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of women around the world.”

Myra Beal, Chief of Staff and General Counsel at Metigy

“Domestic and family violence is not just a private or personal issue. The ABS estimates around one in six female workers have experienced or are currently experiencing family or domestic violence. While Australia has introduced unpaid family and domestic violence leave to support victims of family and domestic violence, at Metigy, we believe employers have a responsibility to do more. 

“In a crisis, people need access to funds as well as time off work, especially when looking to get out of a toxic situation, which is why we offer an extended five days of paid leave so that victims of violence feel more empowered to put their wellbeing first and not be at a  financial disadvantage in their time of need.”

Julie Cooper, Senior Content and Communications Specialist at AZK Media

“One of the biggest workplace challenges facing a woman today is her own self-belief. Women tend to downplay their achievements, truly underestimating them. Most often, it stems from the fear of appearing too “arrogant” or too “full of ourselves.”

“In reality, however, that strong sense of belief in oneself is a vital component of success. It’s what makes us feel brave enough and confident enough to put ourselves forward for promotions and the praise we deserve. It’s key to creating lasting gender equality in the workplace.

“To cultivate this strong sense of self-belief takes seeing ourselves ‘in a new light’. It means having our own backs. And it’s a practice; a daily remembrance that we are worthy of everything wonderful in this life and especially, at work. 

“The beauty of creating this unshakeable self-belief is that in doing so, we’re also giving others permission to do the same.”

Rohini Sharma, Industry Lead, 

“I believe organisations need to think holistically and devise workplace practices around the human journey and each of its stages. Business leaders need to ask themselves what will drive employees to make both a fulfilling career and life. While there’s been a concerted push over the past five years to implement compassionate parental leave policies, there are other stages to consider.

“Juggling full-time work and family life are difficult. Children require consistent support, especially at crucial junctures like the transition into school. More support is required so parents don’t feel they have to make a choice between their family and career – not only post-childbirth but as their children grow. 

“Employees struggling to achieve a balance must be encouraged to adopt flexible working hours or hybrid work models. If their output and contribution remain the same, why risk losing talent to the 9-5 grind?”

Kate Evans, Group Executive for People, Brand and Communications, SHAPE Australia

“Having spent 17 years working in the male-dominated construction industry, it’s apparent that the sector must create and implement necessary policies that challenge gender stereotypes and encourage females to flourish.

“At SHAPE, we’ve implemented a robust Gender Action Plan designed to produce and maintain a compelling employment proposition for women. One challenge we address head-on is the pressure women often face when it comes to parental leave. Having to decide between continuing a career or caring for a child shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

“The SHAPE Parental Leave policy is non-gender specific and sets a framework for support and benefits that are available to work parents. Ensuring parental leave policies are gender-neutral validates a company’s commitment to a fair and flexible approach for working parents and helps remove the pressure often faced by women.”

Bronwyn Le Grice Founder, CEO, and Managing Director of ANDHealth

“As a female founder in the fast-growing Australian digital health industry, I’m passionate about the role women can play as leaders in the STEM and SME sectors.

“The best digital health ideas today are not gendered or tied to a specific job description; they are coming from those that have real-world experience with the problem they are trying to solve.

“However, we know that bias prevents female-generated ideas from having equal access to investment, especially for small technology companies, highlighted by the fact that 82% of female founders across sectors believe gender has impacted their ability to raise VC funding (State of Australian Startup Funding report).

“To break our biases meaningfully – and we all have them – we need to do more to bring women into leadership circles. It’s not sufficient to say “I hire lots of women”. All leaders, male and female, need to be aware that systemic bias exists, then take definitive and meaningful action to change policies, processes and behaviours to remove that bias. 

“We have to actively take steps to give women and minorities the same opportunity for development, extension, and investment of time and money, as their male counterparts. Finally, we have to support our female founders and CEOs, as we know that female leaders create more diverse teams.”

Irene Georgakopoulos, Director of Talent Acquisition & Culture and co-founder, Physio Inq

Challenge no 1: the mum guilt. I have never spoken to any mum in the workplace who doesn’t harbour some form of guilt around not being there as much for their children as they would like. The key to overcoming this is to understand we are not alone and to reach out to our fellow mum colleagues who are in the same boat for support and the occasional download. This makes all the difference, and many times these conversations empower us to see things from another perspective and keep soldiering on, knowing we are not the only ones.

Challenge no 2: Not having many women in the team at the leadership level and in the company, you work in actively seeking out other women to mentor or work with has never been easier. With LinkedIn, for example, connecting and chatting with another female. The executive is only a click away, and I have personally found several female friends I can go to if I need to soundboard an idea or chat through a problem.

Challenge 3:  Being labelled as too “emotional”. I think the moment I embraced what I had to offer to a conversation (and just be myself) this stopped being an issue for me. Women sometimes subconsciously buy into this notion that we need to be more “serious and professional” to be in a leadership role, and then start to pretend to be someone else. Letting this go and embracing the fact we offer a valuable and unique perspective by simply being a female…that is where the magic happens.”

Paula Kilby, Talent Acquisition Manager at Cyara

“Many women or working parents in the workforce need ongoing flexibility, and they shouldn’t be shamed because of it. If female employees take time off for menstrual cramps, smear tests, IVF treatment, endometriosis pains or anything else, they must not be met with raised eyebrows. 

“These things are not just baggage we can leave at the front door when we start a workday – they are everyday things that happen because we are women. They don’t start and finish at a regular time either, so having greater levels of flexibility with your employer just needs to happen – it’s that simple.

“For the last two years, people have proved time and again that they can work from anywhere, anytime and still get the job done. Why give your employees the tools to work from home and then ask them to justify why they aren’t at the office? Trust your employees and they will deliver.

“You don’t hire good people and then treat them like robots. It shouldn’t matter how many days they are in the office or work from home if they are meeting goals and getting the job done. And if companies don’t plan to continue offering a flexible workplace option, then they are going to feel the effects of the “great resignation” from an employee perspective.”

Lamia Lee, Executive Director, ANZ – Commercial, Customer Success and Project Management at Lucid

“As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we are once again reminded that while we have made inroads in the workplace to make it a more balanced one in terms of gender diversity, much more needs to be done in supporting women in the work environment.

“This can be in the form of organisations providing more flexible arrangements for mothers re-entering the workforce and offering dads and partners more paternity leave to support their spouses. Governments can also help with childcare subsidies as we know many times the high cost of childcare is a barrier to many mothers returning to work.

“The pandemic highlighted how many women and mothers still carried the main burden of working, taking care of their household and children and homeschooling. While this juggling act was difficult for many mothers, what it has shown us is that there is scope for organisations to move to a more flexible mode of working which can significantly help mothers in having a more equitable work-life balance.

“There should also be greater support and emphasis to see more women take more leadership positions at technology companies. The tech industry is still very much male-dominated and more needs to be done to change this. STEM education for girls should be introduced at primary and secondary schools so that we can nurture a love of science and technology and lead to careers in this field.

“Women are great communicators and collaborators, not to mention have a good eye to detail and the big picture. These soft skills that women bring to organisations can tremendously boost workplace success. Is it not then time that we ensure we build more inclusive workplaces for our female employees?”

Tarsi Luo, Bellamy’s Organic CEO

“While Asian Australian women are seen as hardworking professionals, getting ahead and advancing into senior roles presents a huge challenge for this demographic. The glass ceiling for Asian women in business is a result of internalised behaviour from a young age – such as being passive or shying away from self-promotion – and underlying bias in the corporate world. 

“Asian Australian women must learn how to stand up and be heard if they want to be noticed for executive roles, even if it means ‘unlearning’ the centuries-old Asian values that are instilled in us. 

“To these women, I say, chase those promotions or opportunities (stay persistent even if you get knocked back at first), learn how to network widely and effectively, speak up at meetings, and find ways to add value to the role or company (you’re not just a busy bee). Your diversity is an asset in leadership roles, so back yourself at every step of the way.”

Ruby Kolesky, Co-CEO and Heart of Product at Joyous

“As a woman in leadership within the male-dominated technology sector, every day, I make it a priority to lead authentically with deliberate intention. Rather than conforming to traditional leadership behaviours where decisions are made based on business outcomes, I prioritise people and foster a culture of love.

“I often wonder if this style of leadership is misconstrued as a lack of focus on execution and productivity and if that might be why I don’t see other women leading in a similar way. By fostering a loving workplace at Joyous over the last two years, we have enabled far greater levels of execution and productivity. Why?

“Because the development of meaningful and rich relationships across functions and individuals has proved to be far more effective than working in silos.

“My advice? Treat your people as human beings, not employees. Respect and include them in discussions, regardless of structure and hierarchy, and encourage them to prioritise their own lives overwork. 

“Offer flexible working arrangements, trust them to do the right thing, and tell them you do! Turns out that love is what differentiates us and stops people from wanting to leave.”

Myra Beal, Chief of Staff and General Counsel at Metigy

“Domestic and family violence is not just a private or personal issue. The ABS estimates around one in six female workers have experienced or are currently experiencing family or domestic violence. While Australia has introduced unpaid family and domestic violence leave to support victims of family and domestic violence, at Metigy, we believe employers have a responsibility to do more. 

“In a crisis, people need access to funds as well as time off work, especially when looking to get out of a toxic situation, which is why we offer an extended five days of paid leave so that victims of violence feel more empowered to put their wellbeing first and not be at a financial disadvantage in their time of need.”