Category Archives: Level the Playing Field – Symposium about gender equality in Australia

What’s in a name?

Last week, the Bank of Queensland received much praise for their bold move to erase names and other identifying information from resumes, in an effort to t recruit more women.

My initial reaction was positive, but as I sat with this news over the next few days, I grew more uneasy with it.  Is it really this simple?  Just remove names and *POOF* unconscious bias is eradicated?  The situation is far more complex than this.

It’s true that experiments with gendered names have proven that female names receive fewer call-backs (the same has been found for cultural stereotypes too, so unsure of how this will impact BOQ’s talent pool diversity…).  However, bias is a systemic process embeds itself into so much more than a snap judgement of a recruiter.

Let’s consider for a moment that a resume has no personal information on it – there is a whole lot more below those top few lines that will distinguish a male from a female applicant.  For example, women are less likely to secure highly visible projects, mission-critical roles, and international experiences are hallmarks of “hot jobs”. If they are in a leadership role, this is most likely to come from a support rather than line function, where they have direct responsibility for profit and loss or client service, which is seen as essential for rising to the most powerful positions.  In an effort to avoid the negative backlash against agentic women, chances are the language used in the resume of a woman will describe them as helpful, supportive and inter-personally sensitive, as opposed to independent, competitive or autonomous  – which are probably to way an ‘ideal’ candidate is ‘objectively’ described.  No doubt that the women in these roles have experienced a gender pay gap their whole working lives and have experienced sexual harassment or discrimination as a much higher rate than their male counterparts, setting them on the back-foot.

There is no doubt that recruiter bias based on applicant names is a real thing, but addressing the systemic causes of gender differences in our workplace stakes much more than erasing a name.  Gender differences in resumes and work history exist with or without a name on top to illustrate it.  Taking steps to counteract these biases and level the playing field does not involve a blindfold.  It requires the removal of hoods that made us blind to the significant, yet incremental processes that drive inequality, combine with real change in the form of deliberate and proactive steps to counteract these imbalances.

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The Real Reason People Won’t Change

I just found this Harvard Business Review article on why change is so hard.  Thirteen years later, it is still so relevant!  Hmmmm, maybe it has something to do with being human…..

Australia’s inability to get the traction on the change we need to achieve gender equality is frustrating to say the least.  For us at The 100% Project, change is not optional.  But, how can we overcome this inertia????


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Why Gender Diversity at the top remains a challenge.

A McKinsey & co. report released this week explains that despite so many organisations having implemented diversity strategies, few have had any notable achievements. They highlight two critical factors: Corporate culture and the engagement of men.
“… prevailing leadership styles among top managers and performance models stressing that executives make themselves available 24/7 can be important barriers to women’s advancement….. That problem is paired with lingering doubts among men about the value of diversity programs, particularly among men who are less familiar with the range of forces influencing women’s career trajectories. ”

Why do we struggle to get this message across? Why are these attitudes not shifting?

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Will the proposed Paid Parental Leave scheme get women back to work?

The proposed Paid Parental Leave scheme is a hot topic right now.
Many are stressing the point that access to quality and affordable childcare is a bigger barrier for women returning to work, and this is where the funding should go.
While we agree with this, we can’t help but wonder why all this talk focuses on women’s earnings, instead of childcare being a family expense, and why are we not talking about Australia’s untapped caring resources: dads…?
#immune to change

What Makes a Great Leader?

In this ted talk, Roselinde Torres describes 25 years observing truly great leaders at work, and shares the three simple but crucial questions aspiring leaders need to ask in order to thrive in the future.  

She distills it into the three core components: 1) Anticipating new challenges and being proactive in shaping their future; 2) Understanding that having a more diverse network is a source of pattern identification at greater levels and also of solutions; 3) Being courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past.

These three components are very similar to the behaviours that are the features of inclusive leadership.

Leveraging diversity is not just the right thing to do – it is a hallmark of a a great leader. 

Gender Equality in Australian Leadership: why is progress so slow?

At just 3.5% of CEOs and 17.6% of Directors in the ASX200, female representation in Australian leadership positions remains woefully low. This, combined with a significant gender pay gap, which has not shifted in the past two decades, suggests that our concerted efforts to address workplace gender equality have resulted in very little change.

While most people agree that this is not acceptable and that we must accelerate change, the current glacial pace of change indicates that support for gender equality has not been translated into real action.

So what is standing in the way of us getting traction? For those of us who want to see 100% of Australia’s leadership talent, both female and male, equally contributing to our social and economic future within our lifetime then the rate of change needs to accelerate.

But, how do we translate our good intentions into real action? We face the challenge bridging the gap between good intentions and actually achieving our goals. Which means dealing with the things that get in the way of making the change happen.

Resistance to change does not automatically infer opposition, disagreement or lack of commitment. While many people, organisations and systems sincerely intend to change, there is often a competing commitment that creates a barrier. The result is a stalling change effort due to some kind of immunity to change.

These competing commitments often exist as a way to protect something that is important to us. But what are we protecting? And at what cost? These competing commitments often stem from deeply held beliefs, or assumptions about the way the world works.

These assumptions are the unseen source of barriers to change, as we unconsciously behave in a way that maintains the status quo. In this way, our failure to create the change we desire is not due to a lack of good intentions.

We have been in situations where our best efforts to increase the number of women in leadership has been met with great enthusiasm, yet real change fails to materialise.  Dr Lisa Lahey’s Immunity to Change paradigm provides incredible tools for addressing these challenges, which is why The 100% Project and Leadership Victoria have invited her to visit Australia.

The goal of our upcoming Immunity to Change Masterclass is for individuals and groups to become more effective in achieving the goal of increased gender balanced leadership, not to find flaws in people’s work or character.

Given that the status quo is so potent, how can we change ourselves and our organisations?

In an organisational context, it is the collective mind-sets that can create a natural but powerful immunity to change. By revealing how this mechanism holds us back, Dr Lahey gives us the keys to unlock our potential and finally move forward. By pinpointing and uprooting our own immunity to change, we can bring our organisations forward with us.

For more information about The 100% Project Immunity to Change Masterclass and Dr Lisa Lahey’s work, go to

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Why are we so scared of the Q word?

Angela Priestly, Editor of Women’s Agenda has made an interesting observation: Businessmen love to talk women in leadership, until you mention the Q word.

Given the success of quotas in countries such as Norway, both in terms boosting gender equality at senior roles, and also in terms of board performance during the GFC, why are we so scared of the word QUOTAS?

The evidence is overwhelming.  In 2010, the Garnet Policy Brief recommended mandatory gender quotas in all management positions of financial and regulatory institutions, based on the knowledge that the under representation of women on in top decision making bodies played a role in the global financial meltdown.  The 2012 Credit Suisse Research Institute report backed this up with data showing that in the volatile post-2008 global financial market, company stocks for those who had women on boards gender diversity outperformed those with none, with higher ROEs and less volatilile earnings.

So why the fear of even talking about quotas?

While many people have a strong pro or anti-quotas stance, it seems that many are shifting sides.  But how can we take effective action on gender equality in corporate Australia if the mere mention of the Q word can stop a conversation dead in it’s tracks?

Many of us have experienced this resistance when involved with gender diversity initiatives. There certain things that trigger a brick walls, such as quotas, targets linked to KPIs or even the acknowledgement that we all have unconscious bias.

For many of us, this resistance to change come as a big surprise, especially when the source of it are those who have expressed a genuine commitment to driving gender equality.  When, despite good intentions and buy-in, how do you deal with resistance to action that translates these ambitions a reality?

It is because of this resistance to change that The 100% Project is hosting a one day Masterclass with Dr Lisa Lahey from Harvard University, to apply her Immunity to Change methodology, for the purpose of overcoming resistance, converting good intention into action and driving real change for gender equality in Australia.  If you are interested in finding out more, check out

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Are we immune to change?

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The 100% Project is hosting a one day Masterclass with Dr Lisa Lahey from Harvard University to apply her Immunity to Change methodology, for the purpose of overcoming resistance, converting good intention into action and driving real change for gender equality in Australia.

If you are keen to learn more about how we can turn gender leadership rhetoric into real action, join us for this special event. Tickets are on sale now at

Goodbye and Farwell: A message fom The 100% Project Chair, Frances Feenstra

Dear Champions and Supporters of The 100% Project,

Today is both a sad as well as an exhilarating day for me. Let me explain. Sad because last night I stepped down as Chair of The 100% Project, an organisation I founded in July 2008 together with a small group of dedicated professional Australian women. We all had, and still have, a passion for increasing the number of women in senior roles and a desire to ensure that some of the barriers existing for women to attain seniority would be removed for future generations.
We believed in the Kofi Anan quote:

“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting
the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development
and building good governance”.

From its inception, the vision of The 100% Project has been ‘To see 100% of Australia’s leadership talent, female and male, equally contributing to our social and economic future’, and our overarching aim is to create the conditions for change. Change that will allow more women to take up senior leadership positions in Australia, in order for us all to benefit.

No offence to the many very capable men out there, but it does seem ridiculous that in 2014 we still need to have the debate about the lack of women taking up senior roles in Australia. A modern, developed country like Australia should have many more women in senior roles in government, on boards, and in senior corporate roles. Today we have one woman in cabinet and only seven female CEOs in the ASX 200, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Surely that’s not good enough?

At The 100% Project we believe that women will only achieve their fair share of leadership roles in Australian business and society when men join the call for change. We are tackling some of the serious cultural issues that are affecting women’s progression into leadership roles and men’s changing needs and expectations in the workplace, and from the very first we have done this with men involved in both the organisation and the solutions.

Since 2008 we have achieved a lot and we are positioned as a catalyst for change through raising awareness of gender imbalance in leadership opportunities, conducting our own research and collating the research of others, educating business leaders, providing solutions for real and sustainable change and influencing workplace cultures.

In addition, we publish ‘Beyond the Spin’, a quarterly, issues based publication which is distributed to our champion network and consistently raises the debate on issues such as the gender pay gap, quotas, engaging men, global inequality, women in the board room, and other topics.
In 2014 we will build further on our success to date with the ‘Immunity to Change’ Master Class in June facilitated by Dr Lisa Lahey from Harvard University (tickets available from our website from 1 April).

I am proud of The 100% Project, what it has achieved to date, and what it will achieve in the future, and am therefore sad to say goodbye to my role in leading the organisation.
So why am I also exhilarated? Well, I am exhilarated because the organisation is set to achieve even more in the future, because it has a strong board, a great management team, fantastic volunteers, an ever growing number of champions, and unbelievable backing from a large number of sponsors and supporters.

The new Chair of The 100% Project is Robert Kenn, a highly capable executive, and a male. Having a male leading the board may seem like a retrograde step for an organisation that aims to create more leadership opportunities for women, however I see this as a step forward as we are role-modelling what we are asking others to do. Despite the majority of board members being women, the board has elected a man as chair. So come on Australia, even when the majority of your board members, cabinet members or executive team are men, look at the women around you and open the door! In addition, the fact that we have men at The 100% Project who believe this issue is so important for our country that they are willing to do whatever it takes to redress the imbalance, surely means that maybe we are maturing as a society and that these men are the harbingers of change. Let’s hope so.

Meanwhile, I urge you all to support the new chair the way you have supported me. And I say thank you to all board members, management, volunteers and supporters of The 100% Project. It has been a privilege to lead the organisation and it is also a privilege to now hand it over for its next phase of growth.

Warm regards,

Frances Feenstra


The Right to Request: Does the Australian Legislation for Flexible Work mean real change in Australian Workplaces?

By Cecelia Herbert

Since 2009, Australian workplaces have been subject to The Fair Work Act that outlines National Employment Standards, which provides a Right to Request flexible work arrangements.  The aim of this Act is said to provide a framework for cooperative and productive workplace relations that serve both economic interests and promotes social inclusion.

I am no lawyer and do not offer legal advice in anyway, but here is a summary of the Right to Request Legislation, as outlined by the FairWork Obudsman.

An employee is only eligible to request this type of flexible working arrangements if they:

A)     Have been with their current employer for at least 12 months or are a casual employee who:

  • has been employed regularly and systematically for at least 12 months; and
  • is likely to continue working regularly

B) Meet one of the following criteria

  • Are a parent or guardian of a child who is school age or younger;
  • are a carer (as defined in the Carer Recognition Act 2010);
  • have a disability;
  • are 55 or older;
  • are experiencing family or domestic violence; or
  • caring for or supporting an immediate family or household member who requires care or support because of family or domestic violence.

To make a request, an employee has to:

  • Ask their employer in writing;
  • Give details of the change they want;
  • Give the reasons why they are asking for the change.

Requesting Part Time work to care for a child or when returning from parental leave is specifically stated.

Employers must give employees a written response to the request within 21 days, stating whether they grant or refuse the request. A refusal of a request has to be based on business grounds, such as being too costly; if it is anticipated that the change will result in loss of productivity or efficiency; if it will have a negative impact on customer service; or if the arrangements with other employees cannot be changed.

If the employer refuses the request, the written response must include the reasons for the refusal.

However, there is no right of appeal included in this legislation, meaning that there are no options for employees who feel that their request has not been genuinely considered or sufficient effort has not been taken to accommodate their request.  If it falls in the ‘too hard basket’ there are not many options for people who have their request rejected.

Despite this legislation being around for quite some time, only 30% of people surveyed in 2012 by the department of education, employment and workplace relations AWALI survey indicated that they knew about their right to request.  These rates are even lower in the group of people who are eligible.

There is no question that we are making inroads when it comes to flexible workplaces, but embedded in this legislation appears to be an acceptance of many assumptions about the burden of flexible work on the employer and a reluctance to accept this change.

Firstly, this legislation puts the onus of responsibility onto the employee to make a request for flexible work arrangements.  It also specifically outlines who is eligible and who is not.  This is contradictory to best practice research[1] which clearly states that if people are to work flexibly without incurring a career penalty, business needs to offer these work options as a standard business practice.  This means that eligibility for flexible work is based on the requirements of the role, being available to anyone for any reason.

Secondly, while this legislation means that business needs to take requests for flexible work seriously, it has made little impact on the proportions of people making requests.   In fact, the rates of requests in 2012 were slightly lower than in 2009[2].  It also appears that it has done little to boost men’s access to flexible work, as patterns of request-making remain highly gendered:  43 per cent of eligible women (mothers with pre-schoolers) made a flexibility request, compared to 19.8 per cent of similar fathers.

It has also done little to motivate those who wish to work flexibly but are not asking for it:  a quarter of employees in the 2012 AWALI survey indicate that they are not happy with their current arrangements, but have not requested flexibility. Many of these ‘discontented non-requesters’ say that flexibility is simply not available to them, either because they are not convinced their employer will allow it, their job does not allow it, or flexibility is simply not possible.  Given that the majority of requests (62%) are fully agreed to by employers, it seems that most people who ask for it, get it.  It makes sense that if you think your request will be rejected and there is a real risk of backlash from your manager for asking, then why would you bother?  The 100% Project ‘Men at Work’ research[3] also shows that men are often reluctant to make these requests, as it is not seen as socially acceptable for them to do so.

Thirdly, this legislation refers only to formal flexible work arrangements.  However, having a set arrangement does not appear to be very flexible.  Flexible work is all about the ability of people to make choices that influence when, where and for how long they work[4].  This autonomy is often reflected by informal or ad hoc flexible work arrangements, which are often not a result of formal arrangements, but a product of a flexible work culture.

Finally, this legislation appears to reinforce the assumption that flexible work arrangements are employee benefits – an exception, not the rule[5] .  This assumption is in direct contrast to the plethora of evidence that shows positive benefits for both business and individuals.

It is explicitly stated that businesses might consider flexible work arrangements to be a threat to productivity or customer service, encouraging business to look for reasonable business grounds to reject flexibility.  This is despite the evidence that tells us that the potential for growth by embracing flexibility is greater than the threat posed by allowing it in.

It is clear that these legislative changes alone are not enough to stimulate real changes in access to family friendly work options. 

Compliance cannot be mistaken for providing the sufficient framework for creating a flexible work culture.  While the Right to Request legislation appears to protect people’s rights at work on some level,  creating a situation where people have to ask, provide the right reasons and be the right type of person will not lead to outcomes of fairness and equality.  To achieve this, we need to approach flexible work options through a lens of opportunity, rather than risk and proactively encourage flexible work cultures, as opposed to waiting for requests.




[1] DCA (2012) Get Flexible:  Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australian Business

[3] Men at Work:  What they want & how Unconscious Bias Stops Them Getting it (2013).  The 100% project

[4] Hill, Grzywacz, Allen,  Blanchard, Matz-Costa, Shulkin and Pitt-Catsouphes. (2008) Defining and conceptualizing workplace flexibility. Community, Work & Family, Vol. 11, No. 2.

[5] Johnson, A. A.,  Shannon, L. L. and  Richman, A. L. (2008). Challenging common myths about workplace flexibility: Research notes from the multi-organization database. Community, Work & Family. 1469-3615, Volume 11, Pages 231 – 242.