Fix the system, not the women

Illustration of men

Since 1909, International Women’s Day (March 8) has been an important day to celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements and call for gender parity. Fast forward to the 21st century and the world today is incredibly different. It’s fast-paced with innovation creating mobility and informal work patterns, yet there remains the problem of how to solve the lack of women in leadership roles.

I have been in the workforce for more than 25 years and have experienced first-hand the ups and downs of corporate life and unconscious bias. I’ve been overlooked for management roles because I was seen to be stronger at operations; I’ve seen peers who put their careers on hold – for even just a couple of years – side-lined from leadership positions; and others who have paid the ultimate price for moving from full-time to part-time employment.

In my own social experiment and conscious move to build my own career capital, I harnessed every initiative that came my way. I participated in executive networking; I was mentored, and have been a mentor. I committed to lifelong learning in many settings and formats. But after rising rapidly to middle management, I stagnated.

Be the change you wish to see in the world

Frustrated with ‘the system’, I ventured out on my own and built a consultancy based around flexibility, mobility and collaboration. In this new environment, I focused on extending my strengths by continuing to be mentored and pursuing executive education.

This was a pivot point, and with a portfolio of global ‘C suite’ clients, I began to lead from the outside with challenging and high level strategic assignments, all the while being granted a seat at the boardroom table. I have no regrets, but I question why women should have to leave the ‘system’ to achieve parity. Despite the exponential advancements in technology, there has been a comparatively slow advancement towards equality.

If I was to be asked by ‘the system’ what they should do, this would be my advice. There’s opportunity, and then there’s workable solutions:

New structures will be the enabler

Instead of focusing on women’s choices causing the pay gap, perhaps it’s time to redesign and overhaul organisational structures. The new structure would support leadership development and corporate cultures that truly value contribution and diversity.

We must take responsibility for changing structures and attitudes in the workplace. Let’s stop trying to bend women into traditional organisational structures and start to fix the system by valuing and utilising female talent to their highest potential.


QUT Business School supports International Women’s Day and is proud to be the Queensland Education Partner of the UN Women National Committee (NC) Australia. To find out more, visit their website.


Nyree McKenzie

QUT alumnus and Managing Director of Thought Bubble, a multi-award winning business communications consultancy specialising in tender and bid management, marketing and communications strategy and design driven organisational process improvements.

This article was published by Thought Bubble, a corporate partner of QUT Business School.

2 responses

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  1. avatar
    Jacqueline Jago

    Great article, Nyree. As an executive coach I have seen the benefits of coaching women toward greater assertiveness – and – I think your point about the role and responsibility of organisations to value and enable their present contribution is well-made and timely. I had the lovely news this morning that a woman lawyer I have coached just won a prestigious leadership award – her coaching topic started out as “being more assertive” (her woman boss did not think she had the “balls” to succeed in senior leadership), but she quickly figured out that she didn’t want to be more assertive, she just wanted to lead authentically. Her authentic leadership style is calm and focussed, rather than assertive in a traditional sense – and understanding that about herself proved to be a breakthrough for her.

    • avatar

      Thanks for sharing Jacqueline. I agree, authentic leadership / leading with empathy is critical. Collaborative leadership (versus traditional leadership) is the future of business. It offers solutions that ticks the boses on business opportunities, personal and professional satisfaction – for both men and women.

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