Big business is still giving men a leg up
A woman does not have to be a man to succeed in business. And it only appears to be a hell of a lot easier if you are. You can’t argue with the statistics.
Women are poorly represented in positions of power.
But conceding the premise that the number of women in executive positions is dismal does not logically lead to the conclusion that you have to be a man to do well.
For a start, success is not synonymous with power.
Success is no more and no less than achieving what you want to achieve. To succeed is to personally triumph. And not in some saccharine, Kumbaya kind of way. It’s about getting what you really want.
Do women want to be on the boards of ASX-listed companies? Are they dreaming of that chief executive officer position? Some are. Most are not.
I’ve seen corporate Australia up close, and it stinks. (Quick disclaimer here – I’ve had over 30 jobs, mostly in the corporate sphere, so I’m talking about them, not my current employer). It stinks of sweaty armpits, cold coffee, and desperation.
Getting to the top in business means knowing how to schmooze and suck, how to stab someone in the back then trample over their still-warm body. Secret handshakes and betrayal, dib dib dib, dob dob dob.
Executive meetings are inherently manly. They’re about sitting around and discussing the length of your experience and the girth of your experience.
Let’s look at what is, now, a typical executive.
Chances are he’s male. Chances are also that he’s overweight from scoffing stale biscuits and being chained to his desk. He’s probably got high blood pressure, a cupboard full of Viagra and a looming premature death. Is that success?
I did a quick and admittedly unscientific poll of women I know and the resounding response to what they want in the workplace was for it to be as easy for women to be in charge as it is for men.
However, being the top boss was not what they wanted for themselves.
What they want is a job where they can be creative and flexible, with some responsibility but not so much that it keeps them awake at night.
They want life choices. They do want more money, but not at the expense of their mental and physical health, and certainly not at the expense of their family life.
So, a substantial chunk of women are succeeding in business in this way: by finding the roles that fulfill them at different levels within a company. They are getting what they want; they are successful even if they are not all powerful.
But there is another substantial chunk of women who want to be the top boss. And the existing power structures make that harder for women.
Feminists fought hard to get my generation all the rights we take for granted. The right to drink in bars, to do whatever jobs we want, to get a bank loan. And we are eternally grateful.
But the business world is still, fundamentally, structured to give men the leg up.
Deserving women are failing, often, to rise to the top. There are ongoing issues with the glass ceiling, often linked to the issues involving the pelvic floor.
But, again, women are finding a way to succeed. They just have to sidestep out of the traditional corporate world.
They are starting their own businesses, in the real world and online, and the companies they are creating are growing with them at the helm.
So, that takes care of a bunch more women who are succeeding in businesses – their own business.
But we also need to talk about why women who want to get to the top within the traditional business models, those ASX companies, are not succeeding, because it is true that many are not.
It’s a common misconception that corporate Australia rewards stereotypically manly attributes.
But, according to many recent studies on workplace success, it’s not being a man that helps you succeed. It’s psychopathic tendencies.
Psychopaths are aggressive, but often charming when they need to be.
They are cunning and lacking in remorse or empathy. They don’t feel guilt. They have no problems discrediting or outright sabotaging those who get in their way.
They are willing to do whatever it takes to climb the ladder, so they are the ones who rise highest, fastest.
Psychopaths are more common than you think – about one in 100 people are psychopathic. But in management the figure is much higher – more than one in 10. And that’s just the ones who are clinically diagnosable.
Corporate psychopaths can coldly, ruthlessly manipulate those around them for their own gain.
And experts say today’s businesses actively select for psychopathic traits. Those who will “do whatever it takes” to get the job done, those who “play to win” .
Look at which companies are in the ASX 200. It’s the big banks, oil companies.
They demand ruthlessness. They demand psychopathy.
And it just happens that men are four times more likely to be psychopaths. So you don’t have to be a man to succeed in business. But you might want to look at developing a dangerous mental disorder.
In summary: Women are already succeeding in business in traditional ways. But they are also succeeding in other ways; by finding a sustainable and fulfilling niche in the workplace, by creating their own workplace.
And where women are failing to fill the same proportions of the high-flying corporate world as men, it’s not because they have to be men to succeed, it’s because they are, generally, less likely to be psychopaths.
*This is an extract from a speech Tory gave at the Don Dunstan Foundation debate earlier this week.
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