The elephants in the corporate corner

By Lucy Nichols

Not every woman wants wants a seat in the corporate boardroom.
Not every woman wants wants a seat in the corporate boardroom.

Numerous articles have been written about the poor representation of women in leadership roles or at governance level. Many large corporates have diversity quotas, and take "affirmative action" to address the issue. In spite of these initiatives, the statistics still paint a sorry picture.

Today I'm going to address a few elephants in the room that may contribute to why women are not well represented in the upper echelons of companies. I've called these the C-words as they are almost too profane to mention and seem to be pushed under the carpet.


It is largely accepted that women have a better developed EQ than their male counterparts. This well-honed self-awareness that make us such good managers can also be to our professional detriment, with over-thinking often leading to crises of confidence.

I recently had lunch with a former colleague who had just started a new job.

A hugely capable individual with more than 20 years' experience, she sat there, crying over her panini, because she hadn't nailed the job yet and was worried her employers would think they'd made a mistake hiring her. She had been in the job three weeks - THREE WEEKS! I'd love to say that this was a one-off, but I've seen this sort of crippling self-doubt in almost all of my female colleagues over the years. I'm no exception- when a big role was discussed with me a few years' back, I thought my boss was joking. I was a living example of the Hewlett Packard research that suggests that women apply only for positions for which they are 100 per cent qualified, whereas men apply if they only meet 60 per cent of the qualifications.

In hindsight, I realise I had all the requisite skills for the position apart from one - self-belief. To this day, I seem to have an internal mechanism that filters out all the good feedback and makes me dwell on my perceived faults, culminating in regular internal beat-up sessions. I know I'm not alone.

Compare this with the male often-cavalier attitude to work. You have to wonder if a head start in the workplace hasn't given males a bit of an evolutionary advantage in the confidence department.


Most women's inner critic is so harsh that it would make Simon Cowell look like Mother Teresa. It also makes us behave in less than exemplary ways. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that "there is a special place in hell reserved for women who don't help other women". I'm not saying that we've all booked our passage to Hades, but can we honestly say that we don't judge other women? I know I do. Watching former British Prime Minister David Cameron's resignation speech following Brexit, I found myself critiquing Samantha Cameron's dress. Probably one of the most seminal moments in modern history and I'm concerned about what a woman is wearing!

If a woman leaves the office early to look after a sick child or to attend a school event, it's the other women in the office who mentally make a note of their absence. When supermodel Gisele Bundchen recently stated that "women should put themselves first" comparing it to the command on airplanes to 'ensure your own oxygen mask is fitted before helping others' she received a snarky backlash of "what would she know" comments from other women.

I honestly think most men are completely oblivious to these things. They miss the subtle nuances of office behaviour and are a lot healthier for it.

In order for women to truly succeed, we need to stop critiquing each other's choices and being our worst detractors.


Feminism was based on the laudable premise that it would give women equality and the right to compete with men on a level playing field.

The downside is that it's saddled a lot of us with TWO full-time jobs: looking after children and working.

For the minority with the luxury of choice, the truth is that many women simply don't want to have two jobs. A former male boss of mine once looked around the office before saying "Lucy, I'll guarantee that 99 per cent of the women in this office would gladly swap their careers to be stay-at-home mums with a villa in Ponsonby". I was outraged. What a sexist sweeping statement, I thought, fuming quietly.

Ten years on as my counterparts begin to drop off the corporate ladder, I grudgingly admit he had a point.

I don't have children and after a day at work and some exercise I'm so shattered that all I'm good for is velcroing myself to the couch and exchanging monosyllabic grunts with my equally knackered husband.

To say 'I don't know how they do it' sounds patronising but I really am full of admiration for working mothers, and their stay-at-home counterparts.

If a woman wants a seat in the C-Suite, good on them - companies should give them all the support, and flexibility they need. However, we must recognise that not everyone wants to take that path and that's equally okay. Perhaps "a woman's right to choose" means something entirely different nowadays.

Lucy Nichols is the client development manager for Madison recruitment.

- NZ Herald

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