New scholarship recognises leadership potential of Indigenous women

Monday, 28 May 2012  Features

The leadership potential of two women has been recognised by an inaugural Indigenous scholarship. The new initiative is jointly funded by the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) and Chief Executive Women (CEW).

AGSM Executive Education and CEW are pleased to announce Arabella Douglas, Director, Regional Services, NSW Family and Community Services - Aboriginal Housing Office and Melissa Williams, Director, Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Engagement, University of Western Sydney as the recipients of the scholarship. These women are among the first to attend AGSM's Women in Leadership program.

The scholarships will be sufficient to cover course fees of $14,000, accommodation, meals and travel to/from the program and additional course-related costs.

CEW President, Belinda Hutchinson says: "The new scholarship is for women of Indigenous descent that may not normally have access to this type of leadership training. This initiative supports our goal to enable a broad range of Australian women to reach leadership positions."

According to a recent McKinsey report, organisations with three or more women in senior management have been shown to perform better than those with no women at the top. The report finds that companies with gender diversity outperformed their sector in terms of return on equity, operating result and stock price growth.

Rosemary Howard, Executive Director and Conjoint Professor at AGSM Executive Education, highlights the criticality of gender diversity. "In an increasingly competitive global economy, Australia cannot afford to lag behind - not only the developed but also the developing world - in getting women into leadership roles."

"In Australia women have comprised the majority of university graduates in Commerce, Economics and Law - all those feeder disciplines into leadership roles - for over two decades now. There are 1.3 women to every one man in our university system - we are investing a lot of money in educating our women. Despite this, there are comparatively few women on the senior leadership career path," notes Howard.

"Indeed, the lack of women in middle to senior positions - in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors - contributes to Australia's growing talent shortage. We're essentially wiping out half of our working population. It's not only a loss of potential talent, but it's an economically poor way of doing business," Howard adds.

Executive coach and Program Director of the AGSM Women in Leadership Program, Rosamund Christie says: "The new scholarship will enable female managers to exercise leadership in the most constructive way and to become agents of change themselves. Part of the program will address unconscious bias and how to recognise it. We then address the skills and capabilities to manage it in the moment."

Unconscious bias
A 2011 Bain and Co study, What Stops Women From Reaching the Top? suggests that there exists among women as well as men unconscious bias that favours masculine attributes at work.

The findings show that men and women think there are differences of style between the genders at work with women believing that what they bring to the table isn't valued and prevents them from advancing in their careers.

"[In the Bain report] Women are seen as more collaborative but less assertive, for example, so rather tragically we see that as bad," says Howard. "Women are perceived as being less effective at problem-solving, communicating and leading."

Hutchinson says she doesn't subscribe to the view that women have different styles of management or are more nurturing than men in leadership roles. "The implication is that women are different from the norm but in the workplace, we're not."

Major listed companies are catching up with gender balance. ASX and Federal Government initiatives that require companies to be transparent and list gender outcomes are a positive step forward.

"The wheels of change are in motion, and we need to maintain the passion and momentum as we're not there yet. When we reach our goal with gender, we can address our other diversity challenges including ethnicity and age," says Howard.