Leading Issue:
Changing workplace culture and attitudes is key to accelerating the progression of women in business


Marissa Mayer is in the news again. The beleaguered CEO of Yahoo has announced this week a major cost-cutting initiative in a bid to turn the struggling company´s fortunes around. The major story for me, here ,is the stream of negative attitudes appearing in the online comments. San Jose Mercury News (the American daily newspaper that covers Silicon Valley), for example, carries a lead story, Yahoo to cut 15 percent of workforce, explore ‘strategic alternatives’ and has some extremely disparaging remarks in their comments section:

I notice woman CEO have some brand equity in just being a woman and the boards keep them around way too long. Case in point, the woman CEO that destroyed AVON – and she was continually touted as one of the most influential women ND best CEOs in the world….

she was put in as CEO for hype – that’s the only reason. She’s not qualified to be CEO of anything

Oh I get it. And she looks good in a dress. Just the latest example of a pretty face with no substance.

She laughs like a hyena.

I love the smell of pink slips in the morning!

This is on the back of a disturbing article in last week´s Sunday Review in the New York Times by Maureen Sherry about attitudes against women in the workplace in Wall Street.

It´s the age-old story – when male CEOs underperform, everyone focuses on their strategic approach, when a female CEO underperforms we get a stream of venomous prejudice about tokenism and how females are unfit to be CEOs.

There is a global push for more representation of women in leadership roles; indeed, on Tuesday this week (2 February) the issue was debated in the the UK Parliament select committee (see here) where the depressing statistics were highlighted that only 4.6% of CEOs from S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies are women (only 23% of large global companies have female CEOs), that there are only 9.6% of women executive directors in FTSE 100 companies and 5.2% in the FTSE 250 companies. These statistics are annually increasing but at a snail`s pace (Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women, poignantly remarked a girl born today will be 81 years old before she has the same chance as a man to be a CEO. The UK has a voluntary gender quota system (based on The Davies Review) as does the US. Parts of Europe (Norway Belgium, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain), Malaysia and Brazil have some form of gender quota.  There is debate concerning the effectiveness of gender quotas.

It is, of course, appropriate to tackle this issue at a macro (policy) level either through voluntary or mandatory quotas because it cannot be right that in 2016 there is such an under representation of women at senior levels in the workplace; but when you read such deeply held sexism in National News online commentaries about Marissa Mayer, it reinforces that this issue must also be tackled  at the grassroots/micro (attitudinal) level.  Some things cannot be left to policy makers and employment lawyers alone to resolve.  Last month The Guardian ran an article that explored how changing workplace culture and attitudes is key to accelerate women´s progression; organisations (particularly the ones that abandoned diversity and inclusion awareness programmes during the hard recession years) need to do more to stamp out macro/micro-inequities and attitudes in the workplace and reinforce their values of respect for others proclaimed in their posters and Powerpoint slides; because at the end of the day, this is not just about sexist attitudes, it is about creating a respectful, equal and dignified working environment for each and every one of us.

Ric Kelly PhD.