Lesbians urged to lean in at the workplace

Lesbians urged to lean in at the workplace

THE number of openly-gay female leaders in Australia, particularly in politics and the corporate sector, is so low that the visible LGBTI community has been labelled as little more than a “massive manfest”.

However, Liz Pearson — a senior member of young professional mentoring organisation Out for Australia (OFA) — said the lack of prominent lesbian role models reflected the challenges all women faced in reaching leadership positions.

Speaking last week at an event organised by Westpac’s LGBTI employee group, Pearson said lesbians faced an “intersectionality of oppression”.

“Gender is such a massive issue, regardless of what sexuality you identify with, then you throw a queer female on top of that and the experience is very different to the gay male experience,” she said.

Surveying the audience at the event, Pearson said: “I ask you, how many queer females do you see and that’s what we face in the general world.

“To come to a theoretically safe space and be confronted by a massive manfest is so disheartening.”

The number of openly-gay men in senior leadership positions in Australia includes Alan Joyce at Qantas, SBS’ Michael Ebeid, ACT chief minister Andrew Barr and the NSW Parliament upper house president Don Harwin.

Asked to name equally high-profile lesbians, Pearson said she was stumped beyond Senate opposition leader Penny Wong.

She added: “I too am struggling with my female CEOs so it’s a double issue”.

In an effort to encourage more young lesbians to aim for the executive suite, Pearson is spearheading a new women’s program at OFA.

“We want to partner with the wider community, with universities and with corporates to start boosting the numbers and making [the workplace] more inclusive and actually support women,” she said.

While it was early days, Pearson said OFA wanted to engage with female students and professionals as well as the broader LGBTI community.

An easy place to start was with social events organised by LGBTI employee groups.

Often scheduled after work, these might unintentionally exclude gay women who have child care responsibilities.

Pearson said beyond the corporate sector, LGBTI Australia was often far too focused on men.

“If you look at the way Mardi Gras is marketed you’ve got a guy with 20 abs in short shorts and a feather boa,” she said.

While she acknowledged the “valiant attempts” by Mardi Gras to run events such as Women Say Something, she added that across the community as a whole, lesbians would all say the same thing: “Where are the females?”

“It’s just such a heavily-dominated male environment,” Pearson said.

Brad Cooper, chief executive of Westpac’s BT Financial subsidiary and an executive sponsor of the company’s LGBTI group, said the bank has signed up to sponsor the women’s program and he hoped it would help bolster the number of openly-gay women within its ranks.

“Our disclosure rate for [gay] women is really low so you just want to try and think about what else we can do to signal this is something we’re supportive of and this program is something we can do in the community and by reflection it helps [internally],” he said.

In a big week for OFA, the group also will host its first event in Brisbane today.

The launch means OFA’s program of mentoring and networking opportunities is now active across the east coast capitals.

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38 responses to “Lesbians urged to lean in at the workplace”

  1. Do not forget gender identity or intersex status as well too!
    Trans* and intersex people are also in the workplace that contribute alot to business and pay tax too!? Remember it is not just about gay, lesbian, bi and straight people! It is called being LGBTI for a reason!

  2. Great article .. the double glass ceiling analogy is bang on the money IMO .. anyone who looks at the ABS stats on corporate leadership can see that in senior leadership positions, men outnumber women across the public and private sectors, as well as in the upper and lower houses of federal parliament http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected]/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features30Dec+2012 .. look at the boards and senior management of many LGBTI orgs and you’ll see a similar trend .. and for transgender women, the disparity is far, far more stark ..

  3. it is not totally wrong (especially young generation) however, what happens in male scene is: if they put something on guys turn up and put money into it, male scene do what they need for male it is obviosly:)

  4. what about trans ppl? what about non binary ppl? what about queer people of colour?
    what about disabled queer people?

    we need to be having ALL of these questions and more

  5. I completely agree and it is one of the reasons I am so passionate that Global at Westpac are sponsoring the OFA women’s program. Not only do we lack female CEO role models, the number of queer woman who are comfortable being their true selves in our workplaces is discouragingly low.

  6. it’s interesting to note that the ‘leaders’ of the ‘Beats Working Group’ – who sent police to harass men at beats, vilified gay men, turned a blind eye to homophobic violence, and allowed police to cover up their involvement, were lesbians — they represented the Attorney-Generals Dept, NSW Police, City of Sydney Council, ICLC, and even ACON.

  7. There is clearly a need for more out Lesbian role models but the intersectionality comment is incorrect. There is a lot of evidence that shows lesbians have a wage advantage over gay men in most cases.

  8. Why are we surprised? I think we need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that the gender based problems in the community as a whole affect us too. Society is, sadly, regards the male as a leader and the female as a subordinate. The battle for gender equality in society does not stop because we as lgtbiq are a suffering minority. Also, it take a while to shake off the dust of years of both gender and sexual orientation discrimination especially when there is no one united strong stand against discrimination and the lack of “fighters” in our community – people want to associate with what is cool,eg party people are more cool than those going down to Canberra to fight for our equality! The fact that the feminist movement split and they are kind of fighting each other, gives men the ability to maintain his dominance. The fact that Mardi Gras is no longer playing a leading role to fight for lgtbiq equality, lead to the emergence of all sorts of new groups fighting for a cause,giving the government plenty of time to ignore us! So if we want to remain cool,so be it,but then we don’t have the right to complain! If we want change,we have to make it! Both on gender and sexuality bases!

  9. Um …. Penny Wong? Kerryn Phelps? Louise Pratt? Not to mention our many internationally acclaimed lesbian artists and film-makers. Sorry, guys – you just haven’t been paying attention!

    • Penny and Louise are both in the public sector, and Kerryn is one of a sparse few well known women in the medical industry. I pay quite close attention actually “guys”, and have met all three of the above amazing women. Now if you can name me a C-Suite Exec that is not only a woman, but a lesbian, I would be most appreciative

  10. What we need is people actually Diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria representing the Trans community. Not these self diagnosed self medicating people we have now!

  11. While we do have wonderful role models – Kerryn & the 2 Penny’s for example – the media and the gay ‘community’ are pretty much male focussed and HIV focussed.

  12. I think until we can say women are in leadership roles there’s no point even going down the lesbian track for that. Being in IT, I’ve been trying for ages to get into management but there are simply no opportunities available. How can you get experience if no one takes the chance on you?

    • Serious, the man in charge of Qantas is openly gay!
      The man who used to run the Democrats.

      Maybe us Aussies don’t care as much as the yanks do with “titles” …..or the sexuality of people.

    • One of the super super super cool things is that 500 Startups in San Francisco, probably the second most famous Tech Accelerator anywhere is absolutely focussed on diversity in tech. Dave McClure the Founder is actively looking for gay men & lesbians to start businesses. Lots of Aussies have ended up at 500 Startups. They love us. If you have any dreams in that direction. 500 Startups is the place to go.

    • We need to stop thinking about it as “taking a chance” – there is no risk here more than giving anyone the job, you are being given an opportunity.