What does parenting have to do with women’s leadership development?

June 13th

The gender statistics in Australian corporations are poor and in the engineering sector, they are appalling. The Victorian government has gone so far as to require all of the water businesses to provide a plan on how they plan to increase the number of women in senior leadership positions.

Clearly there is conscious and unconscious bias happening.

But is there more to it than that and does it somehow have to do with the way that the boys and girls are wired and socialised?

Girls are wired differently and find it easier to sit still and behave well at home and class. They are quiet and cute – and they get rewarded for this. They get rewarded with praise at home and school and, overtime, they are rewarded with good marks and academic success. Girls grow up dreading that they will ‘get into trouble’ or upset anyone as their self-esteem is tied up in being‘good girls‘. They are told that they are playing on a level playing field and that they will do well.

But it is not a level playing field.

Boys are noisy, can’t sit still and hate school. They are constantly being told off and getting into trouble and it’s ‘water off a duck’s back’ to them. They come and grab what they need and just get on with life. They are socialised to be loyal to their mates through playing football and other activities.

I run a Cub Scout pack. At the last camp, the Cubs were playing with a flint and steel and learning how to make fires without matches. I had 8 flint and steels and about 15 cubs scouts. Not one girl was quick enough to grab one – they all went to the boys who were far more aggressive in getting what they want (yes, they have girls in scouts these days).

So, maybe, telling our girls that they are ‘good girls’ and rewarding them for being quiet and doing what they are told is not preparing them for the competition for leadership positions in corporations. Letting them think that if they do everything right then the rewards will come may not be in their best interests. Maybe teaching them perfectionism is stifling their willingness to take risks, try things, fail and learn to try again.

So working to eliminate bias and level the playing field will make a big difference.
But think about the way you are raising your daughters. Let go of your demands that they be perfect and stop rewarding perfectionism with praise.

And if you are a woman in corporate Australia:

• learn to rely on yourself for praise and feelings of self worth and not rely on others to do that for you
• speak up and be prepared to take risks; every time you speak up you will do it better next time
• ease up on praising your daughters for ‘being good’ and let go of admonishing them – for anything

Jenny Bailey is a speaker, author, coach, trainer and consultant and expert in leadership, communications, mindset and parenting. She is the only female leadership coach in Australia with a degree in engineering. She has worked as an engineer and as a senior executive for some of the most respected brands including KPMG, Rio Tinto, SKM and Yarra Valley Water. Learn more about Jenny by visiting her at jennybailey.com.au.