Tag Archives: gender equality

Women in Procurement – An International Survey

Gender imbalance in business is clear to see. But, in procurement, how do professional associations stack up in terms of percentage of women members? 

Procurious recently launched Bravo: Celebrating Women in Procurement. Join the discussion here.

It’s well documented that females represent less than 5 per cent of CEO positions in S&P-500 companies, but organisation with greater diversity have enhanced business results.

Less described is the status of female participation across the procurement profession. So I decided to explore this using data from international Purchasing Associations (PAs).

Feedback from 22 PAs having a subscription base of around 230,000 members was received. I found that, on average, women accounted for 41 per cent of the membership base. However, the figure is skewed because the largest association is close to 50 per cent.

In reality, the majority of the other associations are in the 20-35 per cent female membership range. This also makes them a long way from gender parity.

PAs also reported that typically only 30 per cent of females attend their conferences and events, and that, correspondingly, a little under 20 per cent of women present at them.

There are also considerable differences between the national PA’s on how they are currently addressing the topic. Barring a few exceptions, most of them having no active forums.

Recent Procurement Studies

Various aspects of this topic have been outlined via a variety of different media. The most notable ones include:

Nonetheless, so far gender participation from a PA perspective has not been explored.

Methodology

Over 30 national PA’s were approached for their participation in a “Women in Procurement” survey. The following 22 replied: Australia, Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA and Vietnam.

The PA’s were sent a survey that had a combination of quantitative and qualitative questions.

Women in Procurement – The Findings

The percentage of female members from the individual PA’s has been clustered and summarised into four groups. Of the 22 respondents 21 of them provided relevant data.

This identifies that the majority of the PA’s have considerable opportunity to approach membership gender parity:

The consultancy named “Catalyst” reports gender participation at different organisational levels in a pyramidal format. Unfortunately, despite trying to explore role level with the PA’s, they did not have enough data to be able to compose any related trends.

One exception, CIPS, the UK purchasing association, has a variety of member levels, differentiated by certification. The highest, most senior level (called Fellows) had 17 per cent women (despite being a cluster 4 PA).

Nonetheless, an interesting trend was noted in the decreasing differences between percentage membership, percentage event attendance, and percentage speaker/presenters.

For the PA’s as a composite group the trend was 40 per cent, 30 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. Not quite the pyramid, but certainly a trend with procurement women having decreasing visibility.

Furthermore, it does beg the question why is there a decreasing participation, and, what can PA’s do to achieve enhanced parity?

Maintaining Highest Level of Inclusion

Despite being informed by the MD of one PA that they “simply weren’t interested in this topic”, the survey research has been able to collate snapshots from different global PA’s and related associations addressing the Women in Procurement opportunity.

This includes:

  • CIPS-MENA (Middle East and North Africa) branch hosted a “Women in Procurement in Saudi” in May 2016. It is the first of its sort in the Middle East.
  • Procurement Leaders have launched in September 2016 an interesting microsite.

When talent compares a prospective career in Procurement with Finance, Marketing, Sales, IT, etc., our track record as a profession might be a problem. And it is hardly enough just to be aware of the issue.

Procurement Associations have an obligation, not only to their members, but to the organisations and communities that engage them, to maintain the highest possible standards and society inclusion.

Enhancing the Profession

What should Procurement Associations do to enhance the attractiveness of the profession…?

On 5th October 2016, CIPS-Switzerland held a “Women in Procurement” evening event. Over 80 participants enjoyed presentations from three great speakers. We now have plans to start a CIPS-Switzerland WiP forum.

The first letter of the word inclusion is “I” – what can “I” be doing about a topic of interest or an arena that needs addressing? It’s your turn now…!

John Everett is the CIPS-Switzerland branch chairperson as well as the EMEAI regional purchasing director for The Dow Chemical Company. His 30-year career spans product innovation, business development, procurement and business services leadership.

What Price Inequality? What Should We Make of Opposition to Equality?

Not all bias is unconscious. Recent derogatory comments by high-profile public figures has drawn attention back to the equality debate.

ChristianChan/Shutterstock.com

How should we understand the spate of recent derogatory comments by high profile figures such as Steve Price and Eddie Maguire about women? And by Sonia Kruger and Pauline Hansen with their anti-Muslim comments?

How do we understand this increasingly public declamation occurring alongside a growing recognition that greater innovation and financial prosperity are achieved through diversity, and that inclusion makes for a better society?

Disproportionate Power

High profile public figures wield a disproportionate amount of power in our society. Steve Price’s labelling of Van Badham as ‘hysterical’ was bad enough (although deftly handled by Badham).

Price’s use of hysterical drew a huge outcry from the audience at the time. However, he seemed perplexed as to why. He then went on to repeatedly talk over Badham. What did he believe was happening, and how did he feel justified to respond as he did in those circumstances?

The social response in the following days was more concerning. There were multiple threats of violence to Badham via her Twitter account, and similarly in public comments to press coverage of the event. What it is that unleashes such harsh and violent responses; why do some people feel justified making nasty, public threats?

Social Dominance Theory

These events serve as a powerful reminder that not all bias is unconscious, and not everyone is interested in being fairer to those around them. Power and dominance have been concepts receiving too little attention lately, but are fundamental for developing a deeper understanding of this behaviour.

Social Dominance theory provides some clues. It suggests that people differ in their level of the two elements of Social Dominance Orientation (SDO): Opposition to Equality, and Support for Social Hierarchy and Dominance.

Support for Social Dominance

People with a high level of group-based Dominance value safety, stability, conformity, obedience and rule-following. They prefer greater levels of hierarchy and power distance in relationships and in society.

High levels of Dominance are associated with active oppression of subordinate groups, justification of oppression, and a strong focus on group competition and threat.

Support for social Dominance means support for active, and sometimes violent, maintenance of hierarchies, predicated on domination by high status members and the subordination of low status members.

Opposition to Equality

Opposition to equality involves support for the legitimacy of the current system including its inequalities. Those at the top of the system tend to believe that the existing system is fair; their position is justified and appropriate to their achievements.

Opposition to equality is associated with political conservatism, support for concepts like ‘work ethic’ as a way of justifying inequality, and with opposition to policies such as equal opportunity or affirmative action.

Opposition to equality is more subtle than Dominance, and is supportive of differential access to power and resources, but not through oppressive means.

(A low Opposition to equality is associated with a high level of empathy, tolerance, compassion and humanitarianism.)

Gender Differences

Individuals who have a high Social Dominance Orientation overall desire to maintain and, in many cases, increase the differences in social status of particular groups. Typically, they are dominant, driven, tough and seek power. Often, people who score high in SDO  strongly believe that we live in a “dog-eat-dog” world.

Men are generally higher than women in SDO. Recent studies have found that high SDO has a strong positive relationship with authoritarian, sexist, homophobic and racist beliefs.

Changing the Landscape

For those of us who do value the increased power and visibility of diversity in all its forms and who aspire to an inclusive society, how do we effectively navigate this landscape?

We can’t necessarily change the beliefs of others. But we should not let them deter us from pursuing a more equal, inclusive world. So what should we do?

  1. Avoid giving those promoting inequality more airtime than they already have (they’re pretty capable of handling this part themselves!).
  2. Tell more stories about positive change.

Even small signs of progress towards equality and inclusion are highly motivating. Psychology expert Professor Teresa Amabile says, “Progress motivates people to accept difficult challenges more readily and to persist longer.”

When people make progress toward, and meet, meaningful goals, the match between the expectations and the reality allows them to feel good, to grow, and be even more motivated to tackle the next challenge. (We can apply some of the same principles as Pokémon Go is using so effectively!)

If we notice the small gains regularly, and publicly, our motivation will increase. And then we will more readily move onto the next step in the equality journey.

Got a story to tell about positive change? Get in touch with Karen on her website.

Inspirational Words from Women in Procurement 2016

The Faculty’s Hugo Britt shares some inspirational words and thought-provoking ideas from the 2nd Annual Women in Procurement conference. 

Back in March, I attended Quest Event’s 2nd Annual Women in Procurement conference in Melbourne, representing Procurious as the event’s media partner.

Literally within minutes of the conference being opened by NBN Co’s Chief Procurement Officer Coretta Bessi, I was scrambling to keep up my note taking as a flood of ideas, inspirational words and thought leadership came from the podium. And this pace didn’t let up over the two days of the conference.

Why run a conference exclusively for women in Procurement in Australia? Because the numbers are dire.

According to Jigsaw Talent Management’s Trends in Gender Diversity, the average split in the Australian national workforce is 54 per cent to 46 per cent in favour of men. But in the Procurement profession specifically the numbers are much worse – 63 per cent to 36 per cent in favour of men. Let’s not also forget the widening gender pay gap – currently averaging 17.1 per cent.

All of these figures point to an urgent need to drive change through a gathering of minds such as that seen at Women in Procurement.

Rather than try to summarise the content of the key speakers’ presentations, I’d like to share what I took as the most inspirational words and thought-provoking quotes from the conference.

Coretta Bessi, CPO, NBN Co.

“Ask yourself every day: ‘What am I doing today that will make me better tomorrow than I was yesterday?’”

Kelly Irwin, Head of Procurement Australia and NZ, Holcim

“Have the courage to leap out of your comfort zone.”

“A boss depends on authority, but a leader depends on goodwill.”

Jonathan Dutton, Director, JD Consultancy

“The secret to success in procurement is staying relevant to the vision.”

“Corporate Social Responsibility has the potential to change the fabric of our decision-making in procurement.”

Dutton’s four big critiques of modern procurement:

  1. An unproductive focus on cost
  2. Organisational isolation with no customer focus
  3. Glacial pace of procurement processes
  4. Acting without enquiry and not asking WHY.

Margaret Ruwoldt, University of Melbourne, speaking on the “Working out Loud” movement

“Hierarchical boundaries are much more permeable in a networked world. You have personal development opportunities that didn’t exist five years ago.”

“’Working out Loud’ is ‘How to Make Friends and Influence People’ meets the internet”

“Don’t wait to be plucked from the crowd – make yourself stand out.”

Jackie Aggett, Head of Procurement, Laing O’Rourke and The Faculty Roundtable member

“Courage, for me, means believing in myself, and believing my ideas are worth sharing.”

Sharon Hoysted, Procurement Manager, Supplier Management, Boeing Aerostructures Australia

“Diversity and inclusion are key to fostering a culture of innovation in your business.”

Nelli Kim, Senior Supplier Management Specialist, Telstra International Group

“If you can get through the self-doubt and give something a try, it’s a win.”

“What are YOU doing to personally manage your development?”

Professor Margaret Alston, Monash University

“Australia’s gender pay gap has grown to 17.1 per cent differential. This is simply not equitable. To achieve the same wage in Australia, women would have to work 64 days extra per year.”

Jennie Vickers, Director Australia and NZ, IACCM

“Don’t be defined by your job title or you’ll find yourself disappearing.”

“Make the case and articulate the benefits of supplier relationship management.”

Honey Meares, Procurement Manager, Supply Strategy, Genesis Energy

On clarity of purpose: “It’s important to know what you are trying to achieve.” 

Sarah Collins, Chief Procurement Officer, NSW Roads and Maritime Services

“Don’t try to change everything at once – rather, concentrate on starting the momentum.”

You can check out the full programme for the event here.

Hugo Britt is a Research Consultant at The Faculty, helping to support The Faculty Roundtable, an influential group of Australian procurement leaders, who gather to share their experiences and insights. The Faculty will be hosting their ninth Asia-Pacific CPO Forum, the region’s premier procurement event dedicated to accelerating commercial leadership at the highest level.

For more information on The Faculty Roundtable or CPO Forum, contact Program Manager, Belinda Toohey.

Overcoming Gender Bias in Procurement

Jackie Aggett, Regional Commercial Manager at Laing O’Rourke, discusses the gender bias she has come up against in procurement, and how she has overcome it to get to where she is today.

Overcoming Gender Bias

Jackie Aggett hadn’t been in procurement long when she needed to spend weeks preparing a major annual report about the procurement of earth moving tyres.

She handed it over to the site manager and watched him hurl the report angrily across the room. It hit the wall and fell apart.

“What would you know about earth moving tyres?,” he bellowed?
The slight blonde 28-year-old calmly walked over and picked up the report, and told him again that there were going to be changes. Like it, or not.

“Every part of me wanted to turn around and run out the door, but I’ve always found ways to overcome challenges in the workplace and turn them into opportunities,” Aggett says.

Finding a Voice

The experience did nothing to dampen her conviction. She has worked in male dominated roles for 25 years. She started out in a supply cadetship at BHP Billiton and then went on to work in rail, construction, marine services and a seawater desalination plant.

“I learned a lot in that cadetship. My boss at the time gave me the cadetship because he saw me as being very courageous, which was part of my upbringing. He sent me straight to Port Headland, where I was the only female.”

Her colleagues weren’t used to working with women. The only uniform available to her was the men’s trousers and shirts. “They were ill-fitting and very uncomfortable. Procuring some clothes to wear to work was high on the list in those early days,” Aggett says.

If anything, her presence among the male workforce was seen perhaps only as a novelty. But that all changed once she began finding her voice in the business, and began offering new solutions to old problems.

“I had a good work ethic and believed in what I was doing, and hit the ground running. But the team weren’t engaged when I started to suggest change, and that was a difficult process to go through. However, I didn’t give up. I continued to speak up and stand up for myself.”

Creating Trusted Advisors

Aggett’s depth of experience covers roles in commercial, contractual and financial management from project start-up through to close-out. This includes all facets of tender preparation, negotiation, contract award and subsequent on-site contract administration, claims, project controls, forecasting, financial reporting and risk management as the client asset owner or contractor.

Six months ago, she was tapped on the shoulder and offered the role of procurement head with international engineering enterprise Laing O’Rourke, which took her across the country from Perth to Sydney. She jumped at the chance.

Her focus in her role has been creating a vision – working to transform the procurement function from spend managers to trusted advisers, firstly among her team of 35 people.

“It is imperative we move beyond being seen and acting as a governance compliance function. We need to understand the business strategy and align our objectives to deliver sustainable value,” she says.

Challenging the Norm

Aggett has implemented a supply relationship management programme among other initiatives, which has been a big step forward for the procurement function within the business.

“A key part of this has been challenging the way in which we engage with the supply chain. The supply chain has a wealth of knowledge and capability which, if tapped into, can provide value creating solutions for our clients, ourselves and our supply chain partners.

“Unfortunately, the construction industry does not often afford the supply chain the opportunity to bring their knowledge and capabilities to the table. Our supplier relationship management program seeks to change this.”

Aggett wasn’t specifically chasing roles in such large corporate organisations, saying one thing just led to another.

“It certainly wasn’t planned that I’d work in male-dominated industries. I had four brothers and a working mother, and was raised to believe that girls can do anything.”

Overcoming Roadblocks

She admits that early on in her career, she came up against road blocks, but didn’t for a moment consider that had anything to do with gender bias.

“I definitely came up against a lot of unconscious bias in my early roles, and at times doing my job took some courage and self-belief. Being female has definitely been a challenge in the roles I’ve held.

“I’d wonder why someone wouldn’t listen to me, or how I could better showcase my skills. I’d work very hard to win someone over, and go through the problem solving process to try and work out why I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. The fact that I was a woman was always at the bottom of the list. Now, after 25 years working in the industry, I arrive at that conclusion a lot quicker and obviously have a lot more confidence in the role.”

Aggett hopes times have changed and that young women entering the procurement industry don’t come up against the gender bias she experienced.

“Saying that, I have been fortunate to work with individuals and organisations that have encouraged me to take opportunities, to believe in my abilities and to reward me for my efforts. I have experienced many organisations that have allowed flexibility in my working week, as I’ve raised two daughters as a single parent.”

While there are no requirements to do so, she advocates the importance of having a degree behind you for anyone working in procurement. Her law and finance degree has stood her in good stead, she says.

“It has absolutely served me well to have the formal qualifications behind me. When people are passionate about procurement and they’ve got the formal education, it gives them a seat at the board table in any situation they’re in.”

Jackie Aggett
Jackie Aggett

Jackie Aggett was one of the keynote speakers at the second annual Women in Procurement 2016 event. Catch up with what happened at the event here.

International Women’s Day 2016 – Pledging Parity

As the world gets ready to celebrate International Women’s Day, there is an ominous warning that progress towards gender parity has slowed.

International Women's Day Celebration
Image Courtesy of http://www.happypics99.com/

According to a report produced by the World Economic Forum at Davos earlier this year, gender parity is now unlikely to be achieved until 2133. This represents even slower progress for parity than had been predicted just 12 months previously, with 2095 the estimated timescale.

Pledge for Parity

It is against this backdrop that the official theme for International Women’s Day this year is Pledge for Parity. The concept behind the theme is that every individual has the ability to make a change, whether it is in highlighting imbalances, helping girls and women achieve ambitions, or create more balanced cultures.

Since launching the campaign a little over 2 weeks ago, over 14,000 people have made an individual pledge. However, this is by no means enough. For the target of 2030 to be achieved, both the International Women’s Day organisation, and the UN, are looking for more people to get involved. You can make your pledge here.

Gender Bias in the Workplace

Procurious has written in the past about the major imbalances between the sexes in the workplace. Although more women than men enrolling at university in 97 countries, in just 68 of these countries do women make up the majority of the skilled workforce. Only in 4 do they represent the majority of leaders.

There is an on-going challenge to organisations to get more women involved in traditionally male-led professions, such as engineering. Career stereotypes, discussed heavily during International Women’s Day 2015, persist, made very clear by last year’s #ilooklikeanengineer campaign on social media.

And the situation is worse when it comes to the wage gap too. According to the WEF report, women now earn on average what men were earning 10 years ago, with men still earning twice as much as women. In country leadership, 50 per cent of countries have a female leader, but only 19 per cent of parliamentarians are female.

Onus on Organisations

In the UK, the Institute of Directors’ (IoD) Lady Barbara Judge, the first female chairman of the Institute in its 110-year history, has called on organisations to make changes. Specifically, to support efforts to increase the number of women in executive leadership positions.

Her recommendations include shaking up recruitment practices, and introducing gender-blind applications; creation of part-time and job-sharing executive roles; and introducing mentors and role models to champion women in senior roles.

She also said, “The remarkable success in increasing the number of women on boards in the UK over the past six years shows how enthusiastically businesses have embraced their role as champions of female progression. Now, we must channel this progress into tackling the next item on the agenda – getting more women into senior, executive, decision-making roles. The onus must be on employers to do everything they can to harness their female talent. After all, it is a business’s loss if it fails to make the most of half their workforce.”

However, it is not about introducing quotas, as has been suggested by some. Gender-balanced leadership expert, Dr. Karen Morley, has spoken extensively on this subject, giving recommendations to businesses to achieve their “critical mass“, but also why affirmative action is not the solution.

Make a Difference

Beyond making a pledge, there are a number of ways you can get involved with International Women’s Day celebrations.

  • Events – Throughout the week there are events around the UK, and around the world, focusing on the celebrations. Find out if there is an event near you, and get along to it.
  • Raise Your Voice – If you are a witness to gender imbalance, tell someone about it. Whether it’s discrimination in the workplace, or impingement of rights, only by speaking up and shining a light on this can a difference be made.
  • Social Media – Can’t make it to an event? Make sure to follow all the progress on the 8th on social media. Follow International Women’s Day on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Share your thoughts by using the hashtag .

And if you need any more persuasion to get involved, look no further than Procurious’ own Tania Seary. Tania is major advocate for equality and has frequently highlighted the females who have influenced her career. You can read her thoughts here and here.

Gender Balanced Leadership – Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action, and the use of quotas and targets in business, creates stigma and erodes merit. Fact or fiction?

Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com

Read the first part of my update here.

Affirmative action measures such as quotas and targets are seen to be problematic for many reasons. Perhaps the biggest concern is that women will be selected for roles based on their gender alone.

This leads to a double negative. First, there is a perception that women themselves will suffer the stigma of being in a role under false pretences. Second, that merit is eroded leading to a performance deficit, as women selected under these conditions are not deemed suitably capable.

What’s the evidence for stigma?

Numerous studies led by Heilman and others between the mid-1980s and mid-2000s explored the idea of stigma. Their research showed that women hired and explicitly identified as being hired under affirmative action programmes were generally seen to be less competent and less deserving of their positions.

This applied even where it could be demonstrated that they were as competent and qualified as male colleagues. (It’s something of a conundrum that women as competent and qualified as male candidates had to be hired through an affirmative action programme…).

Both men and women assessed the women described in this way as less capable. The women appointed through these processes themselves held these views, even in the face of contradictory evidence about their competence!

They also went on to take less credit for successful outcomes and indicated less interest in continuing in leadership roles.

More recent meta-analysis of this same databank, as well as more recent research, creates a more refined view that points to a fundamental problem with how we see affirmative action.

Why Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action is designed to ensure proactive investigation of whether or not equality of opportunity exists. And if it doesn’t, to take steps to eliminate barriers and establish real equality.

Quotas and targets are amongst such measures, in recognition that women and men of equal talent and skill tend not to be appointed to roles with the same frequency, as noted above.

The more refined view reinforces the importance of the language we use. Unzueta and his colleagues found that women’s self-image benefited generally from affirmative action policies, so long as they did not think they had personally benefited.

Other studies have shown that those who benefit from affirmative action recognise the success of such policies, see them as providing them with opportunities, and enjoy working for employers with affirmative action policies. Where women are told their qualifications are high, they do not experience the same negative effects.

Feeling Stigma?

In summary then, stigma may well occur under certain conditions, and how women’s success is described is a critical factor. If women are told they have won their role solely because they’re women, they are more likely to feel stigma.

Where there is a general environment that opportunity is being re-balanced and women move into senior leadership roles, there seems to be no stigma.

Where women are told they have won their roles because they are competent and capable, whatever the affirmative action landscape, there appears to be no stigma. (And this happens not just for women, but for any group in the minority, including male nurses working in a predominately female working environment.)

As it is so unlikely that women will be placed in roles solely because they are women, and as long as women are not described as winning roles solely on the basis of their gender, stigma should not be an issue.

Is Merit Eroded?

Merit is often discussed as if it were an absolute. As if there were perfect standards and assessment tools that allow raters to make unequivocal judgments about individuals. There is however clear evidence that measures of merit include subjective elements and are influenced by stereotypes. The testing community willingly admits to the challenges of making fair assessments of individuals.

Test construction and conditions remain open to bias, and plenty of research supports this. Given that implicit beliefs that associate men with leadership and women with support roles are held at least slightly by the greater majority of the population, it is clear that even those of us with good intentions may not be able to suppress these when we are  assessing capability.

And according to Crosby, most people just don’t notice persistent injustices unless they have access to systematic comparative data. At individual decision level, and even within departments, and even by those attuned to such discrepancies, discrimination between different demographic groups isn’t discerned.

Detecting Different Patterns

It is only when reviewing large amounts of aggregated data comparing smaller groupings across a larger collection, that people are able to detect different patterns in hiring women and men.

Crosby and her colleagues put this down to a fundamentally human need to believe we live in a just world. When we perceive difference, we would rather put it down to a random quirk than to intention (discrimination), and so we miss the pattern.

Because observers are not always able to detect unfairness in processes, valid assessment of the merits of women are harder to achieve than valid assessment of the merits of men.

In Crosby’s words, “the main reason to endorse affirmative action … is to reward merit. Without the systematic monitoring of affirmative action, one can maintain the fiction of a meritocracy but will have difficulty establishing and sustaining a true meritocracy”.

What to do:

  • Prime women for competence
  • Prime others for women’s competence
  • Take care in choosing assessment methods, and as far as possible structure assessment processes to avoid priming on gender lines
  • Increase transparency of the numbers.

Dr Karen Morley is an Executive Coach, Associate Dean at Mt Eliza Education, expert on gender-balanced leadership and registered psychologist.

Gender Balanced Leadership – Token Representation to Critical Mass

For gender balanced leadership, moving from 10 per cent to 30 per cent representation doesn’t happen ‘naturally’.

Gender-Balance-FBNSME/Shutterstock.com

In a couple of recent posts on LinkedIn, I’ve explored the areas of women’s representation in politics and on boards, and have been pondering why achieving a critical mass of women seems so challenging.

Here’s a summary of the three key barriers to critical mass.

1.  Token numbers lead to complacency and stall progress

The existence of women in token numbers creates a belief that the glass ceiling has been breached. ‘Token practices’ lead to a form of complacency – women perceive that as long as one woman has made it, their own mobility is possible.

Once at least 10 per cent of board members are women, men also view hiring practices as equally fair to men and women.

Even where the number of women in senior roles doesn’t change over time, women still tend to believe that hiring is fair. They view their organisations as providing them equal opportunity. Men are aware that they have a greater chance of promotion under token conditions. And under token hiring practices, men feel that their status as the majority is legitimate.

Recent research into the gender balance of the five highest paid executive roles in 1,500 US firms between 1991 and 2011 found that once one woman had been appointed, the chance of a second woman joining this group dropped by about 50 per cent.

The researchers had expected to find that the introduction of one woman into this top echelon led to a snowball effect. That did not occur over this 20 year period.

2. Homophily restricts network reach creating gender stall

Networks are the traditional basis for and continue to influence board appointments. Homophily is the tendency to associate with those like ourselves.  At token representation levels, the density of the female director network remains subcritical.

Token conditions mean that women already in the system can’t develop a strong network that enables them to invite a sufficient number of other women onto boards. Men’s tendency to network with other men also means that prevailing conditions don’t change.

Without intervention, critical mass cannot be generated. Too many boards with no women, and too many boards with token numbers, equals gender stall.

3. Gender bias limits women’s perceived legitimacy for leadership roles

Leadership continues to be associated with agentic characteristics such as dominance, competitiveness and ambition. The pervasiveness of this set of beliefs means that decisions about legitimate leadership are routinely biased against women and in favour of men.

Women face a dilemma. They’re damned for being competent as leaders, or doomed to support roles when they demonstrate gender-associated warm and communal behaviours.

It is well researched (e.g. Bhonet et al 2014) that hiring and selection decisions are impacted by unconscious bias based on candidate gender. Males are more likely to be selected even where experience, skills and abilities of male and female candidates are identical.

Targets, quotas and other methods are required to to counter-balance these forces, and achieve critical mass.

Make sure you come back for the second part of this article next week.

Dr Karen Morley is an Executive Coach, Associate Dean at Mt Eliza Education, expert on gender-balanced leadership and registered psychologist.