In the fifth part of our blog series on women in leadership we spoke to 100 Women member, Sarah Glenister, Director of Change that Matters.
On graduating from Murdoch University with a Bachelor of Psychology, majoring in Organisational Psychology Sarah had her first role working with autistic adolescents and adults. As she says “It’s not quite organisational psychology but it was a great opportunity to work in a sector I knew very little about.” Sarah returned to uni to complete a Grad Diploma in Education in Guidance & Counselling then spent ten years working part-time in an education/counselling role in a variety of organisations, mostly working with refugees and newly arrived migrants/international students.
In her early 30s, with her 4 children starting school, she increased her paid work and moved to the Department of Health. Over 17 years of service she has been fortunate enough to have many great opportunities in the strategic area including roles in mental health and change management.
Recently Sarah left the public service and is in the process of starting up her own consultancy in Change Management in particular in the social justice area.
What do you believe is the most significant barrier to women in leadership?
Women lead all the time in the workplace although not necessarily in paid leadership roles. Historically women have worked and grouped together in networked social structures rather than command and control, hierarchical structures. In the change space we are more aware of the importance of these networks and the identification of key influencers who aren’t necessarily in the formal leadership roles.
I think the biggest barrier to women in many industries are the number of women seeking these roles. I come from the Health industry which has had a female dominated workforce for a long time, the sheer numbers of women ensure that the leadership positions are often filled by women. So I think the bigger question is how we can encourage women into industries that have not traditionally attracted a balanced gender and how can we get them to stay longer so that they reach those leadership positions.
Women start out strong after university, then other life events happen and women often prioritise those, often, although not always by choice, over their career ambitions. With the bulk of the domestic duties, children and elderly responsibilities the funnel narrows quickly for women or just slows right down.
Conversations around whether you can have it all or inquiries as to how you possibly manage having a family and a career (let alone guilt inducing comments around who picks up the kids from school) have never been levelled at men, only women. While I hear less of this articulated now, there is still an undercurrent. What I do hear more of across both sexes is the concept of a balanced life, and the reluctance to work long hours and sacrifice healthy pursuits, hobbies, travel and family life. I’d like to think this will benefit both women and men and along with the shift away from the hierarchical structures to a more networked approach, will mean it will be an easier system for women to seek leadership positions within.
What are leadership skills all women should learn?
There are a raft of leadership skills that are critical but one that I feel is our greatest weakness is financial literacy. We seemed to have an increase a few years ago of women studying science and maths related subjects like engineering, accounting, IT, statistics etc but these numbers, at least anecdotally, seem to have slowed/plateaued. Apart from the resulting low numbers of women in these industries it impacts on all industries at that higher level. In paid leadership roles a key component is overseeing projects and budgets which require a high level of maths/financial literacy. Too many women that I’ve met opt out here and it is a real weakness.
Other areas including how to handle negotiations, have difficult conversations and take criticism are important leadership skills.
What would you like women to be leading?
I think women can and do contribute to all industries. Having women in leadership roles in non female dominant workforces like IT, Banking, Superannuation, Treasury, Police etc will potentially encourage young women to explore these areas.
What would change if more women were leaders?
I read something recently about how if you want the status quo challenged then hire a woman, women challenge the status quo because they’ve never been it! Certainly in the corporate world, technology is changing everything. As a result leaders are being more enlightened and certainly being held to account in areas like ensuring supply lines are free from human trafficking and slavery. The area of corporate social responsibility is fast becoming a focus and I think it is a natural fit for many women. It involves challenging the status quo!