Women need to change their mindset to secure the managerial positions currently occupied by males according to the New Zealand head of one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.
The lack of Kiwi women in the highest echelons of business is a result of many factors, says general manager of GSK New Zealand, Anna Stove, and change is not occurring fast enough.
A recent CEO Pay Survey showed there are currently no women in charge of New Zealand’s top listed-companies, and a Human Rights Commission’s Tracking Equality at Work report found women in senior management positions in the private sector has declined from 31% in 2014 to 19% in 2015. Women’s representation on private sector boards sits at just 14%.
This says Stove is simply not good enough.
She says New Zealand is not alone with international research showing the trend towards women reaching the most senior corporate levels is only growing at one percent per annum. Another study of gender disparity in senior positions found that a man starting a career with a blue chip corporation is 4.5 times more likely to reach the executive committee than a woman*.
Stove, who took the helm at GSK NZ three years ago, says the responsibility to change the situation lies with Kiwi women and their employers, with both needing to change some long-held perceptions in order to foster higher levels of achievement for females in the corporate world.
A strong advocate of diversity in the workplace, Stove believes there are key changes women can make to ensure they reach their goals and secure top-level jobs.
“While some women will already be doing these things, others may not realise that a subtle shift in their thought processes could help them achieve their career goals far more easily,” says Stove. “It’s not a case of having to behave like their male counterparts or change their personality, but rather learn how best to use their skills in the business world for a positive end result.”
Stove says while women are very good at creating social networks outside of work, often they don’t apply those same skills in the workplace.
“One of the keys to success in the corporate world is to form strong relationships and networks to ensure you are top of mind for a new role, promotion or training opportunity.”
Stove says networking in a business environment may not come naturally to all women, but taking any opportunity for it that arises, and ensuring they follow up connections with people via email, phone or social media following an event or meeting, is an easy way to expand their professional circle.
She says employers also have a role to play here and it’s essential they make sure networking opportunities are not limited to times or places that could exclude women.
“A day on the golf course or an evening cocktail party may suit some women, but it may not work for others. It’s the manager’s job to ensure their functions work for all their employees, regardless of their gender or commitments outside of the office.”
Stove says Kiwi business-women also tend to follow an international trend of only applying for promotions if they feel they meet 100 per cent of the qualifications listed for the position, as opposed to men, who are happy to apply if they meet just 60 per cent of the job requirements .
“Many women fail to apply for promotions or jobs at a higher level in another organisation because of this lack of confidence in their own ability to use the skills they have and learn the rest on the job,” says Stove.
Stove says employers should also be aware of this potential obstacle and encourage high-performing women to apply if they see their confidence may be lacking.
“For an employer, it’s always better to have more applicants to choose from, and even if a woman doesn’t get the position, the push may give her more confidence to apply for the next one.”
For many women, juggling the various requirements of everyday life at home and the office can be overwhelming, but Stove says shifting your mindset could be as simple as eliminating one word.
“Women need to banish the word ‘busy’ from their life and instead concentrate on being ‘remarkable’,” says Stove.
Stove says taking the emphasis off how much they need to do in a day and instead finding ways to do their best while balancing all facets of their life makes women feel more efficient and portrays a confidence in their abilities that will be respected by senior managers.
“Rather than trying to do everything women also need to empower their teams to do their jobs, and to stop feeling guilty about what they can’t fit into their day,” she says. “Their life and career may look different to those of their male counterparts, but that doesn’t mean it is less successful or that they aren’t getting the job done. It just may be at different times or in a different way.”
Employers have a large part to play in this, Stove believes. “There is subtle sexism and an unconscious advancement bias in many organisations, which is why managers need to be open-minded when it comes to finding alternative pathways that work for the company and star female employees.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Kiwi women is finding strong mentors and role models, says Stove. “With the lack of women in senior positions in this country, it can be tough to find someone who can help them plan their career. But it’s essential for women to find those who can share their knowledge and experience in order to reap the benefits of lessons learned along the way,” she says.
Managers needed to be aware of this also, and encourage senior female staff to support and challenge other women in the organisation. “Having a role model in your organisation is a huge benefit, and can really help women succeed,” she says.
Stove says if women and employers both take on the challenge of ensuring there is more diversity among senior staff and executives, the decline in women at the top of business can be turned around for the positive benefit of everyone.
“Countless studies have shown that diversity helps not just develop a better culture, but also improves the bottom line, making it an increasingly essential part of corporate strategy for all Kiwi businesses” Stove says.