Gender equality: shame we’re still talking about it

Gender equality: shame we’re still talking about it

Mind Warriors, the company behind JOLT Challenge, hosted a recent event where the triumphs and challenges of four women in leadership were put under the microscope. The panel discussion was attended by nearly 200 professionals and explored the role that self-intelligence (self-awareness and management) plays in the leadership journey.

Hosted by the AUT Business School, the panel included Jacinda Arden (Labour Party MP), Shelley Campbell (chief executive of Sir Peter Blake Trust), Sarah Trotman (director of Business Relations at the AUT Business School) and Victoria Crone (general manager Marketing and Sales at Chorus).  Each had their own story to tell.

On being asked about her views on what it was like to operate in a man’s world, Sarah Trotman challenged this perception.  “I don’t work in a man’s world, I work in Sarah Trotman’s world.”  Sarah went on to emphasise that luck has a lot to do with one’s leadership journey and when opportunity knocks one just needs to step up.

As a working mother, Victoria Crone has a constant battle with guilt.  “No matter whether you choose to stay at home and be with the kids or go back to work, you can feel guilt.  ”Playing a leading role in such a large commercial organisation as Chorus, Crone has plenty of male counterparts.  She clearly sees the strengths of both genders.  “As a woman we often bring more empathy to the table which aids us in being able to build deeper relationships.  However, these strengths have to be balanced with a man’s tenaciousness.”

Attending the World Health Assembly in 2008, Shelley Campbell found herself in an interesting predicament.  Requested by her director to present an intervention on behalf of the New Zealand delegation, Shelley leapt at the chance.  “In taking on leadership opportunities the old adage of feel the fear and do it anyway really comes to life.  I was feeling the fear.  Then when my director explained the intervention was on the topic of female genital mutilation, the fear soared,” explained Shelley with a smile on her face.

This Geneva moment gave Shelley the confidence to go on to more challenging endeavours.  Already recognised as a Blake leader, she has been the CEO of the Sir Peter Blake Trust since 2010.

As one of the younger members of Parliament, Jacinda Arden admits that, when she was asked to step up to the front bench by her party, she briefly wondered whether it was too for such a career move.  “I was still really learning the ropes of being a good politician.  I considered suggesting I should wait until I had more experience under my belt.  Then I realised it was mad to sit around waiting for life to happen so I jumped right in.”  Describing her experiences since, Jacinda captured her philosophy of leadership as being what’s absent in the room.  She feels the world is still grappling with what equality actually looks like and is happy to be playing a role in helping progress that understanding.

Speaking about her great mentor, Sir Ron Carter, Shelley Campbell summed up the discussion.  “I asked Sir Ron what his thoughts were on gender balance in governance.  His response was typically straight forward, ‘You have to get there on merit’.  I chuckled to myself afterwards and thought, that’s fine as long as the same applies for men.”

After robust discussion on this issue, one of the few men in the audience simply asked, “Is this about gender equality or are we witnessing the evolution of the individual?” This fresh perspective obviously left a number in the audience pondering and a number of the panel agreed this was worthy of consideration.

Edwina Pio, associate professor at the AUT Business School, brings another angle to this debate.  As part of the AUT Business School’s Work Research Institute, she has an interest in broadening the ethnic diversity of organisational leadership in New Zealand.  So its clearly not just a gender imbalance that we are experiencing in New Zealand.

After decades of debate, analysis and dissection, this topic is still at the forefront of our lives.  Why is this?  Is gender equality or inequality a reality or perception?  It seems that it matters who you ask.  For these four women however, it is just business as usual and to focus on gender inequality would be just a distraction.  That being said, this topic doesn’t look like it is going to go away any time soon.

Colin Bass is the director of BusinessLAB, a company that specialises in sustainable business, productivity and strategy planning. He is an accredited consultant with the Institute of Accredited Business Consultants of New Zealand