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Australian men think women hold themselves back at work and lack ambition: study

Eloise Keating /

Australian businessmen believe women are failing to get ahead in the workplace because of the difficulty in managing the ‘work/life’ juggle, as well as their lack of qualifications and ambition, according to research released today.

The study, conducted by workplace consultants Positive Leaders, surveyed 1000 Australian men and women about their attitudes to work and found a gap between the way men and women see gender disparity in the workplace.

According to the study, two-thirds of Australian men believe women have the same career opportunities as men, compared to just 35% of women, and 62% of men want to see more women in leadership roles.

While 19% of men believe the biggest barrier to career progression and leadership roles for women is a lack of ambition, 13% of women identify ambition as the highest obstacle.

More than 80% of women say the “work/life juggle” is the biggest barrier, and 63% of men agree.

The study also found 72% of Australian women describe themselves as “just functioning” at work over the past six months, while 15% said they were “flourishing” and 13% reported feeling that they were “languishing”.

It’s a “staggering” statistic, says co-author Megan Dalla-Camina. “For productivity, we need people to be thriving in the workplace,” she told SmartCompany.

While the authors did not specifically seek to speak to small business owners, Dalla-Camina says the study covered all sectors in regional and metropolitan areas and therefore she expects the findings would apply to businesses of all sizes.

Dalla-Camina says the authors were most surprised to find the large discrepancy between men and women who believe women have the same career prospects as men, but she says the data can be interpreted in both negative and positive ways.

While it might suggest there are some “cavemen” out there who believe that women should not have the same opportunities as men, Dalla-Camina says it may also show that “Australian men believe we have come so far in business that men now believe women are just as capable”.

Dalla-Camina is optimistic about the state of play in Australian workplaces and says it’s important to focus on the policies that are in place to encourage women to participate in the workforce and what businesses can do to help these women strive.

However, diversity and strategy compliance consultant Prue Gilbert told SmartCompany more needs to be done to improve workplace equality, particularly around attitudes towards pregnancy.

“The survey reveals disappointing attitudes to equality, but it’s perhaps not surprising in the context of a national culture in which one in two women experience pregnancy-related discrimination, one in four women have experienced sexual harassment in the past five years, and 36% of women who had experienced intimate partner violence were pregnant at the time of the violence,” says Gilbert.

Gilbert says “the point of inflection for education about equality is pregnancy—a time when traditional roles of mothers and fathers, and the impact of any biases, both conscious and subconscious, need to be challenged both in and out of the workplace”.

“Only then will we see a change in the views around equality, and only then will we see greater numbers of women performing leadership roles,” she says.

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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