Posted by: ginalazenby | April 3, 2013

why have women left management?

The third video in the series of conversations on Feminine Leadership with Dr David Paul…

While I was in Australia a report was issued by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency presenting census data from the last decade showing what little progress women have made in the upper ranks of corporate Australia. Subsequent media coverage trumpeted the headline:  ‘Reform Key to Women’s Progress.’ Unless something radically different is done, most commentators were saying that change is just never going to happen.


63% of the top 500 companies had no female senior execs at all
63% of the top 500 companies (on the Australian Stock Exchange) had no female senior execs. None. And Australia trails its overseas peers with only 9.2% of female board directors (in ASX500 companies). Compare with the UK which has just 13.2% of females on the boards of the top 250 FTSE companies and 16.5% in the USA on Fortune 500 company boards.

The CEO of ANZ Bank Mike Smith was quoted as saying  “More radical approaches are called for … to drive more women into senior leadership positions … Businesses need to take the time to understand what is needed and  take direct action to ensure more women thrive and advance in our workplaces”.

It is clear that companies need to implement structural change to appoint and develop strong pipelines of female talent.  When a top male leadership team wakes up to the shifts happening across the planet and decides to appoint women they find the queue of women waiting outside the boardroom door has gone. Those who were actually waiting for a boardroom place probably weren’t standing in the line anyway, but they became impatient and left .. some went downstairs and elsewhere in the organisation to part-time roles so they could juggle family life, others walked out the building, some even left their industry … all so that they could find other creative, flexible, more rewarding and nourishing ways to express themselves and make a living.

Why are there less women in management waiting for those top positions?
I asked Dr David Paul why he thought there were less women in management and therefore not waiting in the pipeline of talent for the top jobs. His response is captured  in third video in the second series of conversations on Feminine Leadership.

David said that women have realised that they don’t want to play the male political game anymore, they just want to do the job, get on with it and get home. They don’t want to spend every night working late as many executives are unreasonably expected to do. The masculine culture does not work for them so they seek employment elsewhere often starting their own enterprises. Certainly in the UK & USA, women are behind more start-ups than men. David says this is a huge loss of talent which also impacts the culture of a business when senior and promising women leave.

“There’s a huge gap and now we’ve gone back to the military style of leadership which is, you’ve got a general at the top and we’ve got all the forces down below. Whereas now, we’ve passed that metaphor. We need to say, “How can we partner? How can we expand? How can we grow together?  I think part of the problem with women’s slow progress, with some of the articles that we’re seeing, is that men are fearful of what do we have to give up. Women are fearful of what do we have to give in to?”

What we need in order to see more women stay in management is a whole culture change. Even the chief executive of the ANZ, Mike Smith, is talking about taking a radical approach. We need to involve women in creating a culture change. What’s up for reinvention is the whole nature of work and finding a way to make it a more nourishing and compassionate workspace for women and men.

David continued, “I have a feeling that if women were at senior levels, they would say, “Let’s all take a pay cut at the senior levels but let’s keep the people that we have.” I’m not talking about the corporate deadwood. I’m talking about people who actually add value to the organisation.   I think we need to smash the notion of thinking outside the box, as well. What we need to do is smash the box and start with a completely new shape and say, “What can we create together?”

The article headline in The Australian newspaper says “Reform key to women’s progress”. Let’s take this a step further and turn this the other way round … women ARE the key to reform. Do you agree?

Dr David Paul is a Sydney-based expert in global leadership and complex change.

Watch the video



  1. I just left my ‘senior management position’ for these comments exactly

    “women have realised that they don’t want to play the male political game anymore, they just want to do the job, get on with it and get home. They don’t want to spend every night working late as many executives are unreasonably expected to do. The masculine culture does not work for them”

    I moved house over a 4 day period in very hot temperatures and was also expected to work each day – that was over a long weekend so I started at 5pm on the Friday night and finished at midnight. I was then asked at 11pm what time I could be at work in the morning, by the client, who scoffed when I said I was moving house.

    It is very difficult to be a female manager in a united boys club, where the boys get looked after and the female has to beg for resources and justify her behaviour. The resources I had ‘begged for’ were given to the new male manager who happened to position himself in the company by writing a report on everything we were doing wrong on the previous project. Hard to have any authority when it is constantly undermined by my dominating male manager, let alone the dominating masculine (supposed female) Exec Assistant to the CEO, who was also a dominating, passive aggressive and a lot of times just an outright bully.

    I was asked to ‘suck it all up’ especially the outward bullying expressions of the EA, mostly on a daily basis.

    After a particularly hard project of 6 months I was told that I could not take any extended leave at Xmas, but watched as my male counterparts all departed abroad one by one for 3 weeks or more. I had intended to take myself abroad to clear my mind and restore my sanity and soul. Then it was back to another very stressful project, combined with death, moving house, buying a house, a brain MRI (all in 2 weeks). Nobody thought to ask if I was ok, even knowing what was going on. They just care about their paychecks every month. Who cares about the people. Actually I do, I care about their experience and their worklife and there was reprisal for doing so.

    Worst of all, just a few months ago I no longer recognised myself as the peaceful, happy and friendly person that I was when I started 2 years ago in this role. In order to go into the office everyday I was wearing a protective armour just to do my job and get on with it. I started to compromise my life just to balance out the stress in the workplace. And put on 15kgs doing so, leading to more stress and more imbalance. This job was in a very toxic environment and being in this space was making me very ill. The effects of this stress were astounding – daily migraine like headaches, inability to look at any screen, excessive fatigue, hard to get up in the morning, teeth grinding and constant irritability. I didn’t like being me, at all and didn’t want to be around people. Going to work everyday filled me with nausea, some days panic.

    My values are not of bullying, putting people down, berating them for no reason. My values are of integrity, looking after people and seeing them supported to do their role. I value being able to do the best job I can with the resources that I have, not being bled because I cannot do everything nor have the resources to pick it up for me.

    The relief in leaving was immediate. My head is becoming more free, and it is taking my body a little while to catch up but so far I’ve lost 3kgs in those 3 weeks now that I’m not holding on to all that stress. HUGE silver lining I now get to create again what I really want aligned with my values, not just get a job because I had moved country and needed to cash up for a while. That is now over. And I will be taking 3 – 4 months to myself to restore my peace, my soul, my body and then to create and manifest what I wish to do next with my life.

    • Dear Kate, thank you for sharing this with such brave honesty and candour. I really feel for you. I think you speak for many women and thank goodness this journey was only a couple of years …. some women can be lost in the ‘system’ for many years! You have clearly articulated the effect this toxic working environment and culture had on you emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Imagine what it is like for the men and women (those playing the masculine game) … they are caught up in this too, and I am guessing they are equally unhappy but they do not have the insights you had and the courage to change it or call it a day. I love your email address name ‘Dyanamic kate’ as it speaks volumes about your attitude. I wish you well on your healing journey as you get back to balance and choose a life path of work that is more sustainable and nourishing for you. When you spoke of hot weather I immediately thought “she must be in Australia” – nobody ever refers to heat in the UK (LOL) … maybe I am wrong 🙂 all the best and thank you for taking the time to share

  2. Hi Gina, thankyou. I am in Melbourne yes, the days that we moved were 37 degrees each with no let up in the heat.

    I thought of a couple of other comments which were also important to put down, after my submission the other day.

    1) My Osteo noticed a significant change in my appearance and aura – my eyes and face have changed from not holding on to that stress, including the musculature around my spine.

    2) My experience of this dominating environment was also having a ‘GM boss’ who knows everything. There was no space for me to be better, know better, know different or contribute, so I stopped. He was the kind of guy who doesn’t want a woman to succeed, or to be better in any way.

    And 3) He treated me as if I was stupid, often, in front of my staff, which gave them permission to do same.

    I had to go back to that area tonight to see someone who works in the building across the road and each time I go back near that area during business hours I (very unusally until now) experience considerable symptoms of anxiety and panic.

    Im grateful that I have this time now, it’s brilliant, tomorrow, Bali. 🙂

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