My post about a recently hired chief financial officer went viral on LinkedIn — because she is four months pregnant. You can read all about it here.
Clearly, while some in the C-suite are finally starting to think long term when it comes to hiring executives, many others aren’t feeling so confident.
Personally, I found the appointment of a pregnant woman to the role of chief financial officer to be inspiring, commendable, and overall, a huge win for women in business.
But the post prompted some really negative backlash. In fact, one commenter has since lost his job after lashing out against the hiring.
So, as the executive stance softens, we need to ask, will the rest of the company necessarily follow? Are staff — a broad cross-section of ‘everyday’ Australians — able, or even willing, to keep up with the pace of change? Are companies creating and implementing clear, future-thinking policies to enable and empower change to keep happening?
Is the fight for equality in the modern workplace no longer just about the C-suite, but rather, the whole organisation, from the boardroom on down?
It’s clear from the reach of this single LinkedIn post the C-suite could face an uphill battle when it comes to taking the lead on promoting pregnant women in this way. How it impacts the greater ‘machinery’ of any given company remains to be seen.
Let’s look at middle management. You’re in a company which has multiple levels or divisions, or perhaps several small teams working in different areas of the organisation. How does it serve the general staff if they are being managed part time?
You have the option of appointing a single, childless person — a man — to the role of manager. He is likely to occupy the role five days a week (or more) for 48 consistent weeks a year. Hire a pregnant woman or mother to do the same thing, and she’ll need to take time off to have her baby, some more once the baby is born, and then possibly require a part-time or casual role in the months or years after that, such is the nature of parenting.
On the surface, there is nothing about the scenario that we should take issue with.
But is it fair for staff to be managed only part time, or to have their roles overseen and managed by more than one person, because one of the two is only taking on a two- or three-fifths workload?
Is it fair for an equally qualified, childless man to miss out on a management role for the sake of gender equity?
‘Fair’ is a funny word in this context. In this scenario, in many corporations or businesses, the male applicant would get the role.
It’s not ideal, but the relative notion of ‘fairness’ is a great deal more applicable when it comes to the easily and frequently prohibitive position of women in management or executive roles.
It was only recently the minimal female representation in the federal parliament was boiled down to a question of ‘qualifications’. If the woman was qualified, apparently, she’d have the role. But how can she get qualified without being given the opportunity to prove herself?
Take this one example and amplify it to apply to society at large, and we start to see how massive the problem is.
What is fair about women being statistically less likely to achieve senior executive status in Australia than their male colleagues? How is it fair that women are paid less to fill identical roles? Where does this fairness doctrine apply to political representation, or the fact a woman’s long-term prospects are potentially held to ransom by the idea she may not be able to work full-time for a short, prescribed period of time?
And how is it fair we’re not having this conversation about new fathers as well?
But evolution takes time. Change is uncomfortable. It requires leadership and a commitment to educating staff and continuing with these often confronting, difficult conversations. So the C-suite is the ideal place from which change should begin.
We’d like to think we’ve evolved to the point where we accept pregnant women and new mothers into management and executive roles. We’d also like to think someone can write a LinkedIn post praising an equal opportunity hire without sexist, draconian commentary being added to it. It’s clear we have a way to go.
The cost of change is inevitably going to be someone else’s inconvenience. But if that’s the sole price being paid, it’s worth it. Progress comes slowly, gradually, and sometimes frustratingly and painfully so. But it comes, and it’s worth it.
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