Let’s face some harsh but simple truths. While things are arguably improving for many women, there remains a long way to go before we have anything vaguely resembling equality at work. The national gender pay gap is 15.3%, ranging between 15% and 19% for the past two decades. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission: “Australian women have to work an extra 56 days a year to earn the same pay as men for doing the same work.”
While women comprise about 47% of all employees in Australia, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports that women only hold “13.7% of chair positions and 25.8% of directorships, and represent 17.1% of CEOs and 30.5% of key management personnel”. For women striving to get ahead and achieve ambitious career aspirations, these numbers can be discouraging. It’s not all bad news, however. For example, women comprised 45.4% of new appointments to ASX 200 boards in 2018, up from 25% in 2010.
While there is reason to be optimistic about the future for women at work, the pace of change is undeniably slow.
As women, we have two choices: wait for change to happen at a pace society dictates, or drive the outcomes we want. The world around us may continue to place roadblocks in the way of our success, but we have the power to step past many of these obstacles and take the opportunities we deserve.
It would be naive to suggest all it takes is for women to be stronger, because men play an essential role in changing the employment landscape for women. History has shown, however, that powerful women pave their own paths and carve out the life they want, often in astonishingly difficult circumstances.
Florence Nightingale — social reformer, statistician, and the founder of modern nursing — was expected as a woman of high social stature in Victorian-era England to marry a man of means. She most certainly wasn’t expected to take up a job like nursing that many people in her circle would have viewed as lowly menial labour. Despite strong disapproval from her parents and community, Florence followed her heart and went on to become a pioneer in the fields of nursing and healthcare reform. She once said: “I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuse.”
Jane Goodall, the British anthropologist, Edith Cowan, an Australian member of parliament and social reformer working for the rights of women and children, and Elizabeth Arden, the Canadian cosmetics entrepreneur, to name just a few, are examples of women who forged ahead irrespective of the barriers that society put in their way. Each of these women, and many others like them, show us what is possible when we live with courage and conviction, regardless of prejudice, discrimination and harassment.
Being a powerful woman at work means having the ability to influence both people and outcomes. Women most likely to succeed are those who feel confident, are mentally strong and emotionally courageous. There is no doubt that the mindsets we adopt have a profound influence on the emotions we feel and ultimately the effectiveness of the actions we take.
Being powerful depends greatly on our ability to recognise how our mind and emotions help and hinder our behaviour. With self-awareness, we have some chance of making conscious decisions about how we want to think and feel. Mastering the ability to entertain only enabling thoughts, and dismiss those that undermine our spirit, will or confidence, is key.
For many of us, understanding our fears and the impact they have on our approach is essential to realising our potential. As anyone who has healed from trauma will know, unearthing and challenging unconscious limiting beliefs created through negative experiences, is essential to gaining control of the mental choices we make.
When we have the ability to choose our thoughts, choosing our emotions becomes far easier. With the ability to choose our emotions, taking deliberate action becomes effortless. When we act deliberately, we become more powerful in our ability to influence the people and events we need to.
Yes, life can be unfair and tough, including for women at work. How we respond to our circumstances, however, will ultimately determine how far we travel down the career paths we want to.
As Oprah Winfrey said: “Excellence is the best deterrence to racism and sexism.”
Wise words from a woman who has shown us all how to leverage the strengths inside of us to create great things in the world around us.