Month: February 2018

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

A long-term view of recruitment starts with girls

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” Chinese Proverb

Your organisation has a gender equity policy; TICK. A Diversity and Inclusion policy TICK. Yet – you can seem to get your numbers up the recruitment talent pool: CROSS.

So, what are you doing to build the equality pipeline for better gender balance in the future? To get to gender balance, a long-term view is needed. And that means focussing on girls as part of an organisational recruitment strategy.

Get the girls interested

As a teenager, I was not sure of what I would do post-school. I was interested in science and curious about how things worked but I wasn’t sure what I would do ‘when I grow up’. Luckily for me, when I was sixteen I was able to do a week’s work experience at a government agricultural research centre. I loved the opportunity to learn from scientists who patiently answered my questions and explained their projects to me in the areas of soil management and animal and plant production.

When I finished high-school I chose to study Agricultural Science. Several years later, I was recruited to the same agricultural organisation as part of a special intake for female graduates, under their equal opportunity program. I ended up working for that organisation for many years and enjoyed a successful career as an agricultural scientist in a male-dominated field.

Start early on addressing gender imbalance

Many organisations are working to address the gender imbalance in their senior management or STEM areas, but stumble in their goals when they fail to attract enough female applicants for the positions; particularly in male-dominated areas.

However, when there are small numbers of female applicants it’s not enough to just complain that ‘women don’t apply’.

There’s a step that comes before we urge potential female job applicants to ‘lean-in’ or ‘step-up’. It starts with the ‘expectation seeds’ we sow with girls. When we plant the idea in young girls of a ‘yes you can’ spirit, we help girls see what they can be. And that means encouraging girls to think about jobs that might have traditionally have been seen as ‘just for men’.

In theory, there’s absolutely no reason why girls can’t aspire to be scientists. Or engineers, truck drivers, firefighters, actors, plumbers or computer game designers.   But, currently, girls are missing out on opportunities for jobs in male-dominated fields that pay well, further widening the gender pay gap (around 15%).

Many organisations that have a traditional imbalance of male staff, want to see greater gender balance in their recruitment pipeline. But, to get there, more girls need to be engaged more often at primary, secondary and tertiary level.

A long-term view explores ways to feed into the recruitment pipeline well before jobs are even advertised.

Attract girls to turn on your talent pipeline

Organisations that focus on building a long-term female talent-pipeline, successfully work in collaboration with their local community, primary and secondary schools, adult education and tertiary institutions as well as other institutions that work with youth.

Many organisations have initiatives to build and nurture the interest of girls in what they do. Programs that teach girls to be MoneySmart help plant the seed of financial management and inspire confidence for girls to grow up and work in the finance sector. University programs that reach out to encourage Girls in Engineering make STEM fun. Helping Females in Trade can inspire women to consider becoming a trade apprentice.

Power up the programs

A recruitment strategy with a focus on gender equity can foster programs that sow the seed of interest in girls, female students and women graduates to consider that one day they might work for your organisation. These programs could be:

  • An annual Industry Placement Program with the local university
  • Host work experience students with targets for female students particularly if you have STEM areas in your organisation.
  • Traineeships and/or apprentices.
  • Vacation employment
  • Implement a 50:50 gender quotas for each intake of these programs

Other supportive steps include avoiding traditionally ‘masculine’ language in job adverts as described here by SEEK. Or, celebrating the women that work for your organisation in your media and communication outputs, promoting events such as Women in Industry networking dinners, hosting an International Women’s Day celebration and sponsoring female students to attend, Bring your Daughter to Work Day or acknowledging star women employees in local media.

How’s your organisation, profession or sector going in taking a long-term focus on improving gender balance? Without a sustainable approach to your recruitment pool, its no use blaming women when hasn’t done the work to build that pipeline. And the best time to plant those seeds is now!

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant in local government and gender equity advocate. In 2014 she was recognised for her outstanding leadership in her community with an Order of Australia medal.


by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

Seeking authentic leadership?

What is authentic leadership? It may be hard to describe, but you can sure smell it when it’s faked.  Increasingly, it’s a quality that we’re looking for in our corporate and political leaders.

It’s a fair bet that when you ask someone what characteristics they want to see in their leaders AUTHENTICITY is near the top. This goes for all leaders – men and women – whether in politics, corporates, public sector or community and service associations. Other key attributes suggested by leadership specialists are emotional intelligence, communication skills, confidence, a positive attitude, intuition, delegation skills and someone who is approachable.

A decline in trust

Last week the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures public trust in our main institutions reported that Australians’ trust in government at an all-time low.  Trust in business and the media also declined with Australia being in the bottom third of 28 countries surveyed.

Why is trust in government so low? Maybe Australians are sick and tired of the political dramas of recent years. The still-unfolding citizenship saga, party infighting and the infamous postal survey on marriage equality have taken their toll.

It’s left us hungry for authentic leadership, in both our political and corporate institutions.

We seek people who stand for something, who have values that they back up with actions; people who walk their talk.

Authentic leadership in political leaders

Can there be such a thing as an honest politician? While some may see this as a rhetorical question, wrapped around an oxymoron, your answer provides an insight to what you value in your own leadership behaviour.

Australians are known for their laid-back approach to politics. Not having had civil wars where we have had to fight for the right to vote or bloody battles over democracy will do that to a nation.

Despite the entreaty by political satirist P. J. O’Rourke to ‘Don’t vote; it just encourages the bastards’, we are a compliant lot. We obey our compulsory voting laws, regularly trot off to elections and obligingly number the boxes on voting forms in the hope that we will elect politicians who inspire us and do the right thing as leaders of our Councils, State Governments and our nation.

On first impressions, we are often prepared to give political candidates a ‘fair go’.

We assume people will be honest. That they will act with integrity.

After all, they are running for public office, so aren’t they holding themselves up to a higher standard than the rest of us?

And even if once elected, they are not perfect, we generally cut our politicians a lot of slack. We might not like it, but when we are told an election promise is being dropped because it is ‘non-core’ or ‘there will be no carbon tax’ or ‘no higher taxes’ we sigh and sort of expect it. If they do something wrong or stuff up, as long as they take responsibility and apologise, we (mostly) forgive them.

Don’t cross the line

However, there is a line in the sand of what Australians will and will not accept from our leaders.

When faced with dishonest, lying and hypocritical behaviour our ‘bull-shit radar’ goes up.

We can smell when someone is being deceptive, and we don’t like it. As a result, that person loses respect, and may even become an object of ridicule. If they are a politician, it becomes very hard for them to survive or get re-elected. If they are a manager, they risk losing the loyalty of employees.

Unfortunately, we can all point to examples of leaders in organisations and from both sides of politics where integrity, trustworthiness and honesty have been discarded for expediency or self-interest.

3 things we want in our leaders

Think of an authentic leader you admire (past or present) in political life, corporate Australia or the public service. What were their qualities that demonstrated integrity? I suggest that there are three essential aspects of someone’s character that makes them an authentic leader:

  • Authentic leaders have clear values. They are principled.
  • Authentic leaders stand for something and have standards about what is right and wrong. They are ethical.
  • Authentic leaders use their values to guide their actions – that is, the decisions they make, the way they behave and how they engage with others. They are consistent

Authentic leaders ‘walk their talk’; even when no one is watching. Because that’s who they are.   

We need more, authentic leaders

In a time of declining trust and increasing disappointment in Australian politics and business, it’s time we had more leaders that display integrity through their actions.

The Harvard Business Review has said that ‘Authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership.’ Thankfully, there are people meeting that standard. For inspiration, check out Victor Perton’s Australian Leadership Project which has a mission to “Celebrate, Understand and Improve Australian leadership” and includes hundreds of interviews with Australian Leaders.

Perhaps you may be lucky enough to work with, or be represented by, an authentic leader? What is it that inspires you about their values, behaviour and action?

Ruth McGowan OAM is an experienced political campaigner at a local and federal level and is a passionate supporter of authentic community leaders standing for public office. She works as a consultant in local government and is a gender equity advocate. Ruth is currently writing a book to assist candidates to Get Elected to public office. 

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

4 ways to Filter Feedback

The candidate had just delivered a winning stump speech to a huge audience of potential voters in a local town hall. By the end of her pitch, she had many people on her side and left the forum elated. But just as she was finishing, a friend walked over and said, ‘I wanted to give you some feedback. What you should have done was …”

What followed was a critique of everything the candidate had done wrong that night; from what she was wearing to what she hadn’t talked about. Her friend thought he was being helpful, but his comments left the candidate in a deflated mood. Luckily this candidate was a coaching client of mine. As we discussed what happened, I was able to share with her a simple ‘feedback filter’ to consider when receiving feedback.

Unwanted feedback vs useful advice

Let’s face it.  Feedback – even when delivered with the best of intentions – can get your back up. Ever felt ambushed by someone’s opinions about your life or work when you haven’t even asked them to comment on what you’re doing?

I’m not talking about useful advice, provided in a helpful way by someone who knows their stuff. There’s a difference. For example, check your reaction when someone who knows nothing about your area of expertise says, “I want to give you some feedback” compared to an expert who asks, “can I give you some advice?” Most people will brace for the inevitable negative comments that come with the first statement yet may be curious to listen to advice from an expert.

The four feedback filters 

Here’s a straightforward way to filter feedback from the helpful to unhelpful. Its drawn from the excellent advice of Thought Leader and motivational speaker Matt Church, who writes about “When to listen to feedback” in his latest book NEXT. Matt (who is an expert!) advises:

“Not all feedback is good, constructive or useful. Take control and be strategic about who you listen to and what advice you take on board.” (Matt Church)

Based on this approach, it’s important to accept while that feedback can assist you to act, not all advice is good advice. Too much ‘white noise’ of others’ opinions can paralyse and confuse you, especially when it’s not asked for or comes from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

Matt Church’s model is simple with an effective approach to classifying feedback into these four categories:

  • SOLICITED advice is when you ask for feedback from someone
  • UNSOLICITED advice is when someone just gives you advice, even when you didn’t ask for it.

Overlaying this is the second filter; qualified or not.

  • The people you receive the feedback from, are either an EXPERT on the topic and experienced or knowledgeable (i.e. qualified to speak on the topic). Or
  • They are NOT EXPERT, just someone who’s unqualified, giving you their opinion.

When to listen to feedback; diagram adapted from NEXT by Matt  Church

Quickly sort feedback

To understand what category feedback falls into, Matt suggests you ask yourself these two questions:

1) Did I ask for it? and 2) Is this person qualified to have an opinion?

If the person is unqualified to have an opinion and you didn’t ask for it, you have the option to ignore it. On the other hand, even if you didn’t ask for it, but the person is qualified, you may want to consider the feedback. If the person isn’t qualified but you asked for their feedback, there is an opportunity to take the information on board as data, that may or may not inform your action.

The real gold comes when you can ask an expert for feedback and they are willing to provide you with some informed advice.

That’s the sort of feedback worth acting on. For candidates in political campaign mode like my client, it is crucial to have a team of trusted advisers (often known as the Kitchen Cabinet) who can guide and provide feedback for action.

How to respond next time you get feedback you don’t want

If you’re tired of getting unsolicited ‘feedback’ from unqualified people with plenty of opinions, I suggest here are a few polite replies you could use:

  • “Thank you for your opinion”
  • “Thank you, you may be right”
  • “Thank you, however, I need to focus right now but next time I want your advice I’ll be sure to ask for it”
  • Simply smile, nod and move on

Ultimately, feedback and advice can be great, especially for showing up blind spots that you may not be aware of. However, feedback should lead to an improvement in your work, not stymie action or knock your confidence.

Perhaps next time you feel a desire to give someone feedback, consider if a) you are qualified and experienced to pass it on and b) if the person has asked for it. If it’s just a random opinion and the person has not asked for it, maybe hold your tongue!

Ruth McGowan OAM is an experienced political campaigner at a local and federal level. As a past Mayor, she mentors political candidates and was previously Campaign Coordinator for her sister Cathy McGowan’s successful political campaigns as an independent candidate for the Federal electorate of Indi. Ruth is currently writing a book to assist candidates to get elected to public office.