About nine years ago, I drove into work feeling it might be a rather dull day. I was about to spend 10 hours listening to the shortlist of finalists for the Australian Management Institute’s ‘Young Manager of the Year Award’.
As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The talent and energy on display was infectious, and filled me with such optimism that I still draw on it to this day.
Julie McKay won the award that year (to be accurate she shared the award with another equally talented individual) and straight away, I knew she was going places. It’s been a pleasure watching her in her role at UN Women, and I’d like to thank her for her work on such a worthy cause, and wish her all the best for the future.
I’d also like to thank Julie for enabling Autopia to support the UN Women over these last few years. We’ve hosted some incredible events, brought together an amazingly diverse group of people and generated some passionate debate over the best way to achieve gender diversity in our lifetime.
We also created a whitepaper addressing the failed concept of ‘merit’, which has evolved into a series of papers entitled ‘Re-Think: The Gender Diversity Series’.
On Julie’s last day as Executive Director of UN Women Australia we launched the second in the series ‘Re-thinking Return’ – where we challenge businesses to look at not only the benefits of diversity, but also the risks of maintaining the status quo.
There will be more to come, however for us here at Autopia, the timing of this launch seemed an appropriate send off.
You never know what can happen in a day, and you never know what tomorrow might bring. I’m sure we’ve not seen the last of Julie McKay’s work in the gender diversity arena, but for now I’d like to leave you with a few words that Julie and I wrote last year, introducing the original whitepaper.
Thanks again, Julie, and best of luck.
Re-thinking Merit: Why the meritocracy is failing Australian businesses’.
Original Foreword by Julie McKay & David Wakeley
“Over many years, we have been discussing and debating the barriers to gender equality in the workforce. It concerns us that consistently when you talk to men and women about why there are so few women in leadership roles in Australia, they will cite ‘merit’ as the reason.
We, like many other leaders in Australia and globally, refuse to believe that women have less merit than men. We believe the merit process is flawed. We suggest those who view Australia as a functioning meritocracy are failing to understand the limits of our own conceptions of merit, which involve a range of biases that discriminate against women and other diverse groups in employment practices in Australian business.
McKinsey recently republished gender equality recommendations it made in 1976. Their similarities to recommendations made today, including in this piece, are cause for some serious concern. Why are we still having the same conversations in 2015 that we were having nearly 40 years ago? Business leaders then called for change so their daughters would not experience the same limits the women of their day did. Many of their daughters are now retired and the statistics around women’s advancement have made little headway. Despite having graduated from university in higher numbers for more than two decades, women comprise less than 20% of board directorships in ASX200 companies, and account for only 5% of CEO positions.1
Overcoming our false belief in a meritocracy has perhaps been a missing piece in the diversity conversation to date. Forward-looking companies striving for diversity have policies that try to introduce diversity into the merit process. We argue here that this is the cart pulling the horse. Forming the highest performing teams through diversity means that merit is instead part of the diversity conversation. We see merit as an element of a process that seeks to achieve optimum performance not through a flawed model of merit, but through facilitating the best possible team.
We commend those leaders in the business community who have spoken out about these issues and who have in their own businesses made good on commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment. We also want to highlight the unsung heroes of this conversation, the tireless work of HR professionals in developing the diversity agenda. These advocates are critical to progress in practice, and need to be at the decision-making table of every business.
Through this paper, we hope to start a new conversation about our overly simplistic view of ‘merit’ and its impact on women’s access to leadership roles. We call on business leaders and managers at every level of every organisation in Australia to boldly seize on these words, these policies, and the recommendations in this piece and across the diversity discourse to ensure another generation doesn’t slip by with insignificant change.
We believe equality is possible to achieve, but if we shy from the challenge our sisters, daughters and granddaughters will continue to face the same disadvantages their mothers and grandmothers did.”
Julie McKay & David Wakeley