Figures from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) shows while women make up half the private sector workforce (50.5%), they are underrepresented in key management positions (32.5%). The numbers worsen when we look at directorships (28.1%), CEOs (18.3%) and board chairs (14.6%). The data doesn’t lie; to achieve true workplace diversity and create an inclusive environment there is still much to be done.
March 8th is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is “choose to challenge.” A challenged world is an alert world. We’re all individually responsible for our thoughts and actions, and not only on March 8th, but every day. This year’s theme calls us - and not only women but people of all genders - to challenge and call out bias and inequality. It’s our choice, and our actions, that will make an inclusive world.
This is the experience of Kathryn Vosper, Chief Sales and Business Development Officer for Damstra Technology, an ASX-listed multinational organisation, with a key purpose of providing solutions that protect the world's employees and assets on every site every day.
Vosper’s background has included working for some of the largest IT software and technology companies in Australia and globally, including companies spanning Managed Services, Telecommunications, Mining Software, Oil and Gas Software and ERP solutions, before taking her current position on the executive team at Damstra Technology. Vosper was also a 2020 finalist for the Outstanding Leadership awards and has spoken on leadership topics.
With her drive and commitment for being at the front face, Vosper says she has not felt disadvantaged when applying for roles because of her gender, however, reflects on experiences where she has witnessed behaviour that clearly shows this bias. This includes “being in a meeting and the conversation is directed at a man, even though I was the one leading it.”
When you have a person with the articulation, the education, the experience, and the commitment to customer care and revenue generation Vosper espouses - to be the expert in the room, but be overlooked because of something like gender which ought to be so trivial and incidental to the conversation - shows the madness and insanity women still face in business today.
For this distinctively white, male writer who has never had his rights to drive or vote ever be questioned, what can we do to bring about positive change? Kathryn Vosper brings this advice based on her experience.
Challenge the company culture
Speaking about her current role, Vosper says “I’ve got a great balance of men and women on my team. It is a pleasure to have this diversity. That’s what makes a team great.”
Company culture does sit with the leadership team, she says, “but also with the individual. You have a personal responsibility to add to the culture in an organisation. If you sit back and want the culture to come to you, if you say it’s not right, but you’re not making it better, then it will never be right. Everyone has a personal responsibility to change it.”
Of course, sometimes you can only do so much. “I’ve not stayed long in some of those cultures,” she states, referring to organisations that have not promoted the participation of women. “We shouldn’t tolerate a culture that accepts this. It deteriorates the culture quickly.”
Have a plan B … and C … and D …
Vosper has enjoyed the guidance of coaches and mentors, and she says this has been key to her career development. She recalls speaking to a coach and saying, “I think I’m being overlooked. What are things I can do to not allow that to happen?”
“I’m the type of person who seeks to fix, not be a victim,” she states. “I’ve always got a plan B, a plan C. I don’t accept it as it is, there has to be another way.”
Find mentors - and be a mentor
Mentoring and coaching help you get this mindset, she says. “You come to a mentor with a challenge and they help you look at that differently and explore the options”.
“I want to be the best I can be. If someone or something is stopping me, I need to look at how to change that situation and I will reach out to coaches and mentors to get advice.” Vosper says.
Giving back is important. "I try and reach out to women in particular and show that regardless of being in a leadership role I’m here to mentor internally. I don’t want women to sit and feel they don’t have a mentor. I want them to come to me and say ‘hey, I would really love to get to there; what do you think should be the path?”
“That’s also how we help the younger generation, by giving back,” she says.
Network, network, network
It’s not only individual mentors and coaches. “Get people around you who can help you, know how to fast-track something, to listen to each other and learn from their experiences,” Vosper says. “That’s where you really get ahead. You learn from others and their mistakes. I fully believe you must have a network of your own people who really know where they are headed.”
“I wouldn’t be here today without the support network I have – a brains trust of women I network with and stay close to, who are very supportive of each other. We’re quite open about our weaknesses and how to overcome them. We’re supportive of each other and don’t knock each other down,” she says.
“That’s the kind of group you need and not only women. Many women have fantastic male coaches, and a male coach is just as important as a female coach to a woman. Having that network is important.”
Chief Sales and Business Development Officer,
Don’t sweat whether you’re liked or not
One question I was keen to ask Kathryn Vosper was how women leaders deal with being tough and aggressive. No leader, or any worker at any level, should be a bully, of course, but I still cannot help feel men can get away with being belligerent or aggressive that small bit easier. I’ll admit I’ve had my own flashes of anger in the workplace. I apologised but perversely received praise for my decisiveness and passion. I don’t see the same when female leaders lose their temper and I cannot help feel women are criticised either way; be too soft and you’re a pushover; be too tough and you’re a whole plethora of pejoratives.
In fact, at one company I saw a strong, brilliant, focused, and capable female leader removed from her role because of complaints from other women she was belittling and abusive. This, to me, was a great miscarriage of justice. As one of her own direct reports I never felt, at any time, belittled. I did feel, however, that she expected precision and answers. If I came to her with a proposal, I needed to be across it - how much does it cost? How long will it take to implement? Are there other ways to achieve it? I knew if I was going to speak to her, I had to perform a quick check in my head whether there was anything she may question that I didn’t have an answer for - then go and figure out that answer.
Clearly, others took her questioning as dismissive and putting them down. It was wrong, and the company was weaker for it - and it was women who took her down.
With that in my mind, I asked Vosper what she thought. "It's a challenge. You must be professional, and you need your team to deliver the goals of the business, you can’t get away from that,” she said. “You also have to be real with your team, you can’t always be ‘nicely’ professional, strong leadership and being accountable as a team is essential. You have to lay things on the line and have difficult conversations sometimes. They can be really uncomfortable but you can’t walk away from achieving the results the company needs. You need the team to be of this same mindset.
“Leadership requires the alignment of business goals with what drives individual team members to success. My view is if I could only get results from being “too” tough then I would want to look at my own leadership style.” Vosper said
Not everyone will live up to your standards. "Sometimes you have to have the conversation and make the change,” she said.
Ultimately, "it is an area women struggle with," Vosper said. "I don’t need to be liked, but I do want to be respected.”
Where to from here?
"Women have a critical role in the workforce," Vosper says. However, "a lot of women aren’t confident in promoting themselves and putting themselves forward. They should be proud of what they’ve achieved. We need to encourage, guide and assist them to do this.”
This takes us back to networking; "A support group of women all wanting to achieve is critical,” Vosper said.
"Through networking events, colleagues and friends you can find like-minded women who are driven to achieve their best selves and once you find an ambitious group of women who want to achieve in their careers you can really take off. You look at blockers together, look at objections of moving into different roles, and work out that plan B.”
"Ten heads will get you much faster ahead than one," she says.
"These women's groups will change; people will move on," but Vosper's advice to women young and old is “get a group of women like that around you.”
"I believe, from a female perspective, having that group of women who are supportive of you and you of them is really key,” she said.
Also - "you have to want to do that. It's easier to sit back than actually go ‘that’s awesome; I will support you.’”
"You have to have that mindset, and want that in your life," Vosper said.