Chris Rhyss Edwards

Where are all the WHITE women at?

OK, before 51% of the human race begins vilifying me for being a misogynistic troglodyte, let me state very clearly that this is not the case at all, I'm simply using the word 'white' as an mnemonic device. In this instance, W.H.I.T.E. is an acronym for Women in the workplace who display Humanity, Integrity, Trust and Empathy. Now let me explain why I've crafted my own quarrelsome acronym..

Early last year, ABS Director of Living Conditions Statistics, Caroline Daley, released ABS research which revealed that men still held a higher proportion of Australia’s top leadership positions. The main example she used was how the proportion of women CEOs in top 200 ASX companies has remained below 5% for the last decade, which honestly meant little to me until early last week.


On a whim, I reviewed the 250+ submissions from agencies, vendors, publishers and brands who were vying to make it to the stage at ad:tech in March to see how many of these were from women in senior roles from across Australia’s marketing and media sector. What I found aligns - somewhat disturbingly - with the ABS data, with U.S. centric data, and even with the European Institute for Gender Equality’s data; the gender imbalance in senior roles across Australia’s marketing and media sector is alive and well. Which, to me, is rather odd in one of the world’s most progressive countries.


ABS, U.S., EIGE’s and my own data sample of 250 clearly points out that the organisational culture within media structures in our country remains largely masculine. This is probably no surprise to many women in our sector, but it genuinely made me pause to consider why it is that less than 15% of the submissions I received this year were from, or on behalf of, women in mid to senior positions within media? Are women less interested in the limelight, too busy, or is it more insidious than this?


From a poll of one, I honestly believe it’s because the differences between men and women in the workforce at the more senior levels of our industry are not fully understood or valued. From experience I can safely say that there are noticeable – and highly relevant and commercially valuable - differences in the way women lead, communicate and make decisions. Take it from a former soldier, every workplace can benefit from rethinking and reshaping the prevailing patriarchal model.

Having worked under, alongside, around, and even just having witnessed some of the truly brilliant and talented women we have in our industry, I’ve seen how more traditionally female leadership traits and values (like mutuality, empathy, emotional intelligence, consensus-building over competition etc.) are of great benefit to a workplace. These feminine traits and values are a perfect counterpoise and compliment to the masculine traits and values that we know all too well. And I know there are plenty of women in our sector who meet, and exceed, the above criteria, but there are sadly too few displaying these traits and values at the helm of media companies.


The good news is that change is certainly in the air. Last year’s ABS research reveals that the proportion of women in senior and middle management within the public service is shifting, with roles rising from 35% in 2002 to 46% in 2012. This shows that, at least in the public service, the dominant masculine leadership traits that have typically prevailed are being contested. But whilst long overdue, this is just the first much needed step on what (hopefully) won’t be too long a journey.


Last year’s Women in Leadership report from the Committee for Economic Development argues that it’s ‘deeply ingrained societal and cultural beliefs’ that are limiting women’s ability to attain more senior roles. I’m sure this is true to some extent. I’ve even been caught up at times in debates that argue the underlying causal factors keeping women from climbing the ladder are locked into our genetic code following 150,000 years of human evolution. But continuing the debate whether nature or nurture is to blame won’t take us forward. Yes we need to talk and debate, but not blame.


What will start levelling the playing field is if we keep gender inequality on the public agenda, though with a shift from focusing on ‘Why’ to ‘What’s In It For Me’. The sooner those who currently hold the reigns understand the real business costs of gender inequality, as well as the value of a more balanced workforce and management team, the sooner the game changes. Inequality in the workplace will only remain as long as we remain silent. It’s an issue that needs to be at the forefront of every company’s agendas.


The way we get it there isn’t by blaming, but in celebrating gender differences…


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Chris Rhyss Edwards Steak Chris Rhyss Edwards
Company: Steak
Position: Head of SEO Asia Pacific
Involved in the digital media industry for over a decade working for the likes of News Corp, Sensis, Clemenger BBDO and APN on clients as varied as Vodafone, CBA, Optus, Telstra, XBOX, Leukaemia Foundation, and Defence Force Recruiting.

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