Opinion

It’s time for the ladies room to become the new power suite

While Australia lags behind the rest of the world in terms of gender diversity within leadership positions, Amy Barzdukas, Polycom's chief marketing officer, states her case for why the ladies room is the new power suite.

When I am asked “is there gender equality in the marketing arena?”, my honest answer would be a resounding “no”. But it’s certainly better than it used to be. Having worked within the marketing industry for many years, I can still remember those days early on in my career, sitting in a meeting and sharing an idea that quite literally fell on deaf ears, only to hear that same idea presented a few minutes later by a male colleague and suddenly it became a great point.

Australia’s leadership diversity is lagging behind the rest of the world

Four (30%) of our C-suite positions at Polycom are held by women, compared to the US average of 19%. The number of women in senior leadership roles of Australia’s ASX200 is even worse at just 10%.

In fact, we like to joke that the ladies room at Polycom is the new power suite.

Why diversity of leadership is good for business

I don’t know that the technology sector has a greater or lesser demand for diversity despite recent headline-grabbing issues like the Google incident, but I would argue that diversity is good for all businesses, not just the technology sector.

Diversity – and not just gender diversity – brings different ideas, backgrounds and assumptions to the table, and that means you make better decisions. Our customers are certainly diverse, so having senior leaders who look more like our customer base can only be a good thing.

Organisations who don’t embrace and respect diversity tend to become organisations that aren’t as able to challenge the status quo, or to think differently about the problems they face. In turn, that makes them less agile. There is the adage: if you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. But problems demand a much bigger toolbox than just hammers.

Leading a multi-generational workforce

For leaders in marketing or in fact, any discipline, creating equality of opportunity is critical, particularly when we now find ourselves in a multi-generational workforce – from Gen X and Y, to Baby Boomers and Millennials. At the heart of this is the need to focus on our employees as people, regardless of age, gender, lifestyle choice or work location.

As an example, having increased awareness and attention to things like people’s relative confidence levels should be a priority. I have observed at times that younger talent may not be as confident of their abilities even though they are highly capable. That’s a cultural issue and so I’m particularly sensitive about looking after and coaching young talent, both male and female. If they are confident in their abilities and competent in their roles, when career progression opportunities present themselves they wouldn’t opt out for the wrong reasons.

Enabling employees with the right tools

Perhaps the most crucial piece is to really make sure that people are collaborating, building relationships, connecting with each other, and remaining as productive as possible whether they choose to work in an office or remotely. They need access to the right business and communication tools to be successful – an adequate laptop, the ability to dial into audio and video conference calls, and content-sharing platforms so they can hear and be heard.

Organisations such as Ernst & Young suggest that over the next decade the economic impact of women on the global economy will be equivalent to that of China and India combined. It also stated that women’s global potential could be the equivalent of having another 1 billion people in business and the workforce.

When we look at the workplace of the future, for me, the challenge lies in asking ourselves how we can leverage the current gender gap to create more opportunities for businesses. It’s about asking, ‘How can we challenge people to approach diversity not as a task or a tax but as a path to tangible business benefits and true differentiation?’

To really succeed, we all need to question the status quo and think differently about our challenges. After all, no one can build a house if they only have a toolbox of hammers.

Amy Barzdukas is chief marketing officer at Polycom

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