The leaky pipeline

Posted on October 25, 2019
By rita cincotta

The leaky pipeline

When I started my PhD research in 2014, I was introduced to the concept of the leaky pipeline.  No, I wasn’t engaging in further study about plumbing.  This leak was referring to the vast amounts of women that enter university, graduate, obtain roles and commence working at the same rate as men, but for different reasons, end up leaking out of those perfectly linear career trajectories.  You know the ones where you experience minimal if any career disruption?!

Organisations here in Australia and internationally are generally quite focused on trying to find ways to keep women in roles to avoid them leaking out.  We have sophisticated campaigns and comprehensive policies, so, if we are spending lots of time and money trying to fix the leakages, why are women still so underrepresented particularly in executive level roles in Australia?

There is a substantial body of existing research on the topic of working mothers, the impact of motherhood on careers, gender quotas and targets.   However, the research lacks a focus on the real reasons that women are under-represented in Senior Executive and Board roles.   There is limited research that analyses why women make the decisions they do in relation to their careers.

Only this week the Australian Financial Review published an article with three key female leaders advising on what we should do to “get ahead”.  The advice consisted of “setting goals, having confidence, being collaborative, being resilient and having a mentor”.  All good sound advice.  But high-level advice too.  It could apply to anyone really.

How about some advice on extreme fatigue, the lack of an ability to focus, smashed confidence, 24/7 guilt, having to take on more junior roles if choosing to work less hours, disingenuous flexibility entitlements or being overlooked for promotions due to working part-time ?

These are the issues I hear in my coaching practice.

The question for all of us is what are we going to do about it?

I believe that real action in this area needs to involve a dramatic change to the system of work.

We still largely work in the same way that was set up at the start of the industrial revolution.  Why?  Do we need to?

I don’t think we do.

I think for many roles we could scrap the notion of “employment type” and measure people on output, not hours.  People should have the option to work where ever they like in non-customer facing roles.  It would be refreshing to have more executives that work different hours; not your traditional 50-60-hour weeks.  Imagine how productive workplaces would be if we engaged in actual work more often and had less unnecessary meetings which make up the huge hours we work.

We are slaves to the current system of work.  And we are no better for it from a physical and mental health perspective.

I congratulate organisations that are genuinely trying to address the issue of an underrepresentation of females in senior executive and board roles.  However, I think we are pushing the proverbial uphill until we turn the system of work on its head.

Everything else has largely been disrupted. It’s time to disrupt this.

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