Galling questions I still get asked by male business leaders

Photographer Jill Greenberg poses at her home to promote her exhibit Glass Ceiling: American Girl Doll in Los Angeles. Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

2015 was the high point in my career.

Not only did I get to turn up, day after day, to do a job that fundamentally makes a difference to Perth and its future, I spearheaded a landmark report into gender equality and was named as a woman of influence. I am not sure it gets any better than that.

“Filling the Pool” is a report that provides the evidence base and solutions roadmap in order to increase the participation and rate of progression for women in corporate life.

It was done by Perth, for Perth, and yet it has found its way into boardrooms and C-suites across the country because of its relevance to the very real challenges women need to overcome to succeed.

Just this week International Women’s Day championed the theme of parity in order for women to be equal in terms of power, money and status.

There is so much work going on in the gender equality space with lots of talk and a bit of action.

It is a disgrace, though, that in modern day Australia we still do not have an equal environment for men and women in the workplace.

This is not my emotional viewpoint. The facts speak for themselves. Australia has a gender pay gap between men and women and sometimes even for the same roles. This means that over the course of their working life women will retire with less security and choices than men.

Sadly, even today there are so few women that rise to the top in their chosen field and this is not because of a lack of ability or capability — it is because of prevailing cultural attitudes and structural barriers. For every woman who succeeds, you can bet that she has had to work harder and been incredibly resilient and self-confident both at home and at work.

Over the years I have been subjected to some galling questions by male business leaders. Corkers such as: “Who is at home cooking the dinner tonight?” when I am at a work function in the evening, or “Do you really need a pay rise when your husband earns a good wage?”

I can’t imagine that many men have the same queries directed to them.

More recently, I have had an increasing number of women ask me, “So how does your husband cope with your success?” to which I answer honestly, “It doesn’t faze him in the slightest.”

These women have confessed to tensions in their marriage escalating as they acquire more money, profile and power.

How sad for all concerned. My hubby is my number 1 fan and on occasion has been found to have more faith in me than I’ve had in myself.

Women who succeed are often singled out as being “determined and bold”. With this, I totally agree. Yet I don’t agree with the sentiment that we are ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

To be a female who rises to the top level of leadership you need to be both bold and determined, along with being talented and have that essential leadership quality too often described as a feminine trait — collaborative.

As more women achieve positions of power, a resetting of the game will occur, along with reassessing value in a more complex and holistic way rather than just looking at the short-term results that are often only measured in dollars. The challenge is for men to join this wave of change and help to drive it.

Marion Fulker

Perhaps the greater challenge is for women to keep juggling the competing demands that life and work throws their way whilst continuing to push for change and finding that extra bit of energy to support each other along the journey.

Marion Fulker is the CEO of the Committee for Perth and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia. In 2015 she was named in the 100 Women of Influence Awards.

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