The case against quotas – Australian Financial Review March 2013

Training Lab FEW In The News

In an age when equality should be increasing, it’s staggering to see that women are still so far behind their male counterparts when it comes to pay and representation in senior positions. Quotas are often claimed to be the answer. But aside from board and intern positions, I don’t believe they will solve the core issue and, importantly, are not wanted by most women. According to 2012 Australian government statistics, women in the general population are paid on average 17.4 per cent less than men, an increase from 14.9 per cent in 2004. But in my 20 years’ experience as an executive search consultant in financial services, not once have I seen a company reducing the salary range for a female candidate.

Maybe the gap is not as wide in the finance industry, but what we know from running a benchmark salary survey for 10 years is that women don’t apply for new roles as often as their male counterparts and with every move usually comes a salary increase. So what can be done? With the help of a number of very talented women and supportive organisations, I have recently launched an advocacy program aimed at women in financial services. In building Financial Executive Women, I have spoken with almost 200 women to hear their views on what will make them more successful in their careers.

Only four believed that quotas were the answer; and those four all had human resources backgrounds. The other 192 (all with at least five years’ plus experience in financial services) felt quotas were not productive as promotions may be seen to be undeserved. These women wanted to get their next role based on their merit. The ‘boys club’ culture was acknowledged by some; however, they understood that they needed to be more assertive in going for roles. Other issues we identified include that women are more modest in their approach to career development.

They often wait to be offered a promotion and are less receptive to headhunter calls. Women also understate their own achievements. Men on the other hand are not afraid to blow their own horn and emphasise their success. Women also often fear being seen as disloyal if they apply for another role. This was particularly prevalent during the global financial crisis, which could account for the widening pay gap. Women feared losing their jobs during this time so may have been more likely to stay in the same role and not ask for a raise. Judith Beck is founder of Financial Executive Women and managing director of Financial Recruitment Group.