For very obvious reasons which we don’t need to go into here, women leaders in business want a level playing field. And that means they want to be judged in a gender-neutral way for the contribution they make. “For a woman, she’s doing a good job” is an anathema. I think we can all agree on that.
But there’s a problem here. How do you draw attention to the fact that the playing field isn’t level without drawing attention to your gender? Two recent articles suggest that some women may be avoiding the former precisely in order to avoid the latter. Which is worrying.
Gay Alcorn, in a piece for Guardian Australia, noted that the Deputy Leader of Australia’s Labor party, Tanya Plibersek, had made the point that whilst women leaders needed to call out sexism, they were at risk of being accused of “playing the gender card” if they did. As Alcorn suggests, maybe that is why the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was willing to describe himself as a feminist but the Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, and the Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop, were not.
Similarly, Elaine Ramirez, writing for Forbes, revealed that in researching her article, one woman who has been successful in breaking through the many glass ceilings in the high-rise Korean tech industry, did not want to comment. Her PR apparently said that she did not want to attract attention to herself “as a ‘woman’” but wanted to “receive credit by her own skill, capacity or competence.”
At one level, quite understandable. And perhaps we all need to be more careful about the targets we aim at. But there can be no doubt that there is still a serious underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. For a variety of reasons. And when it needs to be called out, it needs to be called out.