James Brown - Tower of London

The opening refrain of the famous James Brown song It’s a Man’s World goes like this.

This is a man’s world

Barely a week goes by when there isn’t an article alluding to the glass ceiling and the gap between what men and women are earning for, what is in effect, the same job. It has been a feature of some workplaces, especially ones that I have managed to look to positively promote and mentor women to help bridge the gap. It’s often referred to as affirmative action. Indeed I am proud to have appointed the first female Finance Director in MODA (The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense and Aviation) in 1998.

But recent events have me thinking that perhaps it’s the boys now who need a ‘leg up’. I attended the recent Queensland Training Awards as a sponsor and was delighted to see the talent pool of young people who are going to be the backbone of our State and the country for that matter. It was a glittering night and the behaviour of all concerned was exemplary. It fills me with a lot of confidence that maybe Australia can make the transition from the ‘lucky country’ to the ‘smart country’. What was noticeable on the night was the number of girls who were finalists. In fact it seemed startling. Not just the jobs where one traditionally might have seen women e.g. childcare and hairdressing, but jobs that have been historically mainly the domain of men e.g. civil construction.

It seems that the girls are now forging ahead. My assessment of young women versus young men (admittedly only a sample involving the peer group of my daughter and my son) is that the young women are so much more together. Their sense of time, organisational skills and planning is so much more advanced. Attend any school formal and you will see a gulf in sophistication between the young men and young women. Keeping in mind for the boys’ school formal that a lot of the young women are Year 11 then the gulf seems even wider. According to the ABS in recent years the girls have been outperforming the boys in reading and maths and are more likely to go on to university. Somehow, somewhere the boys though outstrip the girls when the career really starts to kick in. The obvious answer is the ‘lost’ years (in career terms) for child rearing or carer roles. However I don’t think this totally explains the crossover in fortunes between university and careers.

My observation of young men and women suggests that the attitude to one another and how each communicates may be also part of the explanation. I can recall picking my daughter and her friends up one night in her year 12. I could barely hear myself speak with the gaggle of conversation each talking over the top of one another but actually somehow listening and taking in multiple threads of conversation. A few years hence and the other night as I picked up a similar cohort of young men in Year 12 as they emerged from the Kanye West concert. They appeared to be communicating with one another in some sort of brief code in a language they had developed for themselves and via the occasional text. Telstra or whoever their mobile carrier is would be pleased! What men do do well though is turn what they have by way of communication skills into a means to assist one another in the business world. Interactions are often an exchange of favours to mutual advantage, taken either at the time or held for later redemption. Women tend to communicate and come together for mutual support. When women understand and refine the skill of networking for career advantage then it’s all over for the boys.

For many, women do seem to outstrip the blokes. If we think politics and therefore policy-making then the recent treatment and perceived lack of success by our first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard might suggest that in the political domain, at least, the men still have it over the women. But if we think of politics at a global level some of the ‘great’ or most memorable political leaders of recent times have been women e.g. Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Angela Merkel, Mary Robinson, Madeleine Albright, Helen Clark, Benazir Bhutto and the incomparable Aung San Suu Kyi. Aside from Obama, can you think of anyone within the male domain who has lived up to expectations: Berlusconi, Blair, Bush? I rest my case.

While watching the program Brilliant Creatures on the ABC on Tuesday night about the four great expats (Clive James, Robert Hughes, Barry Humphries and Germaine Greer) I reflected that while they have all punched well above their weight, it is only the woman of the bunch, Germaine Greer, who has left an indelible mark on an entire generation. So you can see a pattern emerging here. Those programs designed to scaffold our young women and support them through their education and careers might well need to be directed to their male counterparts instead. If we look to the Godfather of Soul for enlightenment we might find some in the following lines of his song…..

  This is a man’s world

                          But it would be nothing, nothing

                          Without a women or a girl.

Do your bit. Give a young man a leg-up whenever you can.