August 22, 2022

Raising the visibility of women leading in male-dominated fields

women leading male-dominated fields

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‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’

It’s a noble rallying cry for more visible diversity. It’s quoted frequently and with fervor especially in discussions around positions of leadership. It even rhymes! 

But this statement has an inherent paradox.

It’s a paradox because while closer inspection of its premises show it to be factually false (there are laws prohibiting the discrimination of employment based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or ability. And history has given us evidence of many trailblazers in fields like medicine, space travel, fashion, and law) as a whole the statement has proven again and again to hold a powerful truth. 

We spoke to three of our Endorsed Employers from the more male-dominated fields of banking and finance, transport and rail, and mining and resources to see how they are answering the rally cry to raise the visibility of women in leadership roles. 

Why does representational leadership matter in the workplace?

Representation shapes perceptions. It shapes the perceptions not only of what’s possible (like we stated above it’s illegal to deny anyone the possibility of a role) but of what’s probable or even permissible in any given culture. 

“Whilst at school getting a job in the mining industry as a woman was socially unacceptable. When I saw that there were women in manager positions and higher up positions here at QMAG it gave me a sense of confidence and reassurance.”

Halle Kennedy-Frame, Business Trainee – Human Resources at QMAG.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to be treated differently because I was a woman. Without this balance I don’t think I would have had the confidence to go ahead with this job.”

Halle Kennedy-Frame, Business Trainee – Human Resources at QMAG.

To find out more about the culture at QMAG.

Studies have shown that children’s career aspirations are highly influenced by who they see in their lives and in the media, and that these aspirations vary based on gender, race, and socioeconomic status. 

Biases about what people in leadership roles look like don’t end at childhood. People who hold identities that aren’t represented in positions of leadership have a more difficult time climbing corporate ladders as well. 

And while achieving diversity will have a positive impact at any level, an increased focus on achieving diversity in leadership will have the greatest impact, because this is where the big impactful decisions are made. This is where diversity has the most opportunity to inspire innovation. 

Do leadership targets work?

Organizations that set targets for the promotion or recruitment of women into leadership roles are more likely to succeed at increasing their gender diversity.

“We’re focused on growing women at all levels of leadership so they can build on their skills and create career opportunities, not only for their personal development and our workplace, but to support a gender-balanced community.”

Belinda Leon (she/her), Employer Brand Specialist at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.

Other benefits of setting targets include: 

  • Clarify accountabilities and demonstrate a commitment to deliver. 
  • A competitive advantage against industry peers.
  • Organizations that have been successful in achieving gender targets report more effective talent and succession planning systems.

“I am proud of the work we are doing to make Pacific National a more inclusive and diverse organization. It is a journey and as a business, we are committed to championing a more equal workplace.”

Paul Scurrah (he/him), CEO at Pacific National

Pacific National use metrics and targets for women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hires to consistently improve on their diversity metrics. Their results are reported and shared with their Senior Leadership Teams, Executive Leadership Team, and Board.

Currently at Pacific National: 

  • 17% of the Executive Leadership Team are women 
  • 32% of the Senior Leadership Team are women 
  • 1.2% of Pacific National employees identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Straight Islander

To find out more about the benefits & policies driving diversity, equity, and inclusion at Pacific National.

What is the “motherhood penalty”?

The motherhood penalty is a concept that describes the detrimental trend of seeing mothers as less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as less competent at work, to find reduced opportunities for career progression, and to be paid far less than their male colleagues with the same qualifications. 

Even in an age when women with children run countries (like Jacinda Ardern) and the number of Fortune 500 companies run by women is hitting a record high, traditional notions about fathers as breadwinners and mothers as caregivers remain deeply ingrained. 

To overcome this, Pacific National have looked at changes to their working environment to make it easier for women to return to work. Job sharing and flexible working arrangements for some job functions offer a supportive and phased return to work. 

“When I first started at Pacific National over 5 years ago, I was initially nervous to discuss working part-time so that I could care for my 18-month-old son. I soon found out I had no reason to feel nervous. My manager was positive, supportive, and accepting of me working part-time and as a working mom herself had also worked flexibly.”

Kate Alam (she/her), Head of Workplace Relations at Pacific National.

“Not only have I continued to be supported working flexibly in a senior role, but I have also been given amazing opportunities to grow my skills. I put this down to great leadership and a community that supports working parents reach their full potential.”

Kate Alam (she/her), Head of Workplace Relations at Pacific National.

To find out more about the benefits & policies driving diversity, equity, and inclusion at Pacific National.

QMAG also offer the opportunity for flexible work arrangements for mothers returning to work, along with a generous paid primary career leave of 26 weeks (with four weeks for secondary carers). 

“QMAG have been very accommodating with both of my parental leaves and the transition back to full-time work. They provide a great work-life balance with flexible working arrangements and provide support around family commitments.” 

Belinda Elliott, Accounts Payable Officer at QMAG.

Strategies for employers to address the need for more women in leadership

Overcoming barriers to women in leadership calls for effective communication about career advancement. This is something Bendigo and Adelaide Bank understand, and why they offer the Women in Leadership program to build the capability and confidence in their women leaders to be senior manager ready. An intensive capability development program, it’s designed to stretch women within the organization towards senior leadership, enabling performance behaviors and mindsets. 

The program challenges participants to see themselves, their responsibilities, and their opportunities with fresh eyes, enabling and inspiring them to achieve career and life goals. 

The program provides a multi-faceted learning experience enabling facilitated group work through virtual interactive workshops paired with self-directed learning through video tutorials, readings, reflective tasks, and workplace activities. Since its inception, 73 women have completed the program. 

“I have gotten so much out of the program, so much more than I thought possible. It’s opened my eyes and mind to so many things and the opportunities for me now are endless. I feel empowered, supported, and ready to excel.”

2020 Women in Leadership Program participant from Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.

“The Women in Leadership program delivered. It challenged me, stretched me, and allowed me to grow in ways I hadn’t imagined. Since attending the program I’ve grown my mindset, my network, my leadership toolkit, and my confidence.”

2021 Women in Leadership Program participant from Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.

To find out more about the other benefits and policies driving diversity, equity, and inclusion at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.

QMAG too offers access to over 200 external training courses, and offers professional development plans, internal and external coaching, and support for all their full-time employees.

“I have been lucky enough to be part of a professional coaching program with QMAG, being able to have that additional coaching/support as I was trying to figure out my career progression has been invaluable” 

Carli Williams (she/her), Engineering & Maintenance Manager at QMAG.

To find out more about the benefits & policies driving diversity, equity, and inclusion at QMAG.

Alternatively, rather than adding to the leadership skills of women within your organization, there’s also a need to celebrate their existing skills. The ideal leadership qualities of the past like ambition and assertiveness aren’t often associated (or indeed even welcomed) with women. 

But now there are workplaces where alternative leadership styles have been nurtured and seen for the benefits they bring. 

“Our leaders’ role is to energize, inspire, and help our people understand how they contribute to our group strategy. Part of this is to ask our leaders to understand their own impact – the shadow they cast. Those in positions of leadership and power influence their team through their behavior and actions.”

Belinda Leon, Employer Brand Specialist at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank

By design, the senior leadership team at QMAG also celebrate multiple styles of leadership. From extroverts who thrive on engagement with their people at all levels, to introverts who proactively engage with teams to find sustainable solutions. From servant-leadership styles where the focus is on people’s growth and well-being, to empathetic leaders who seek to understand other points of view and inspire their teams accordingly.

Strategies for women with ambitions to reach leadership 

Where else better to get advice about how to be a woman in leadership in a male-dominated field, than from women who are already there. 

Prue Newall (she/her), Head of Environmental Governance, and Genevieve Nix (she/her), Head of Safety, at Pacific National share their advice for us.

“Developing strong relationships across the business has been a key factor in my journey. Strong relationships not only help you achieve outcomes but also provide support when needed. 

Prue Newall (she/her), Head of Environmental Governance at Pacific National

Also, over time I’ve found the importance of having my ‘cheerleaders’. Knowing who I can go to when advice or feedback is needed, who will give me open and honest feedback to help me develop and who will support and advocate for me when I’m not in the room.” 

– Prue Newall (she/her), Head of Environmental Governance at Pacific National

“My advice to others would be to be clear about where you want to go in your career and what you need to succeed. Seek out and/or ask for mentoring programs and coaching. 

Genevieve Nix (she/her), Head of Safety, at Pacific National

Understand your support network and try to gain experience working in different areas. I would also encourage women to be curious. Education is helpful but it’s not everything – be open to new ideas and ask a lot of questions.”

Genevieve Nix (she/her), Head of Safety, at Pacific National

Have the employers above inspired you? 

Be sure to see the other great diversity, equity, and inclusion work they’re doing by checking out their Endorsed Employer Pages: 

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About the Author
Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.