Pru Goward was a journalist with the ABC for 19 years before becoming executive director of the Office of the Status of Women and later Commonwealth spokeswoman for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. She was recently appointed sex discrimination commissioner. Pru Goward has written extensively on public policy, government, women and politics. Her latest book, A Business of Your Own (Allen & Unwin) is about 32 of Australia’s most successful businesswomen.
AIM: Do the sexes have a distinct management style, or is it more related to the individual than to gender?
Goward: I haven’t studied the management style of men, so I couldn’t directly answer that. But the women I interviewed for my book were under-confident in their dealings with staff, initially, because they felt that they had to care for each of them personally. They found some things difficult, like telling people they were not up to scratch. They were delighted when they discovered that there was a professional formula for staff management that did not require them to go through all that pain. The managers don’t go through this because they had been trained up to it; but the owners have had to work it all out for themselves.
AIM: You make the point in your book that women business owners emphasise marketing and communication. Many male business leaders might not see their success in the same way.
Goward: Women do have a passion for their business, and there is an emphasis on marketing. The women interviewed were risk-averse: few of them borrowed money to start out. Some of them charmed it out of sponsors and backers, but few went to the bank and said: “I would like a million dollars, please.” They did not have redundancies payouts or any of that to help them either.
AIM: One point in the book is that nobody identified money as a key driver.
Goward: Yes, these women tended to say: “I have a passion for the business.” And that was a problem. They started out in the interviews saying they didn’t care about money. Then you would find out that in their first 12 months they had disastrous occasions when they nearly went out of business because they didn’t understand money, and didn’t take much notice of it. Then, they learned to use it as a management tool to test how well they were doing. They discovered that you had to care about money.
AIM: Why has there been such growth in small businesses run by women?
Goward: A couple of things. Some of those women after divorces felt it was all they could do. Others went into business because the corporates bored and limited them; sometimes they felt the culture was not welcoming to them. Women want to be the boss and they want to do it early. A lot of young women are doing well in business.
AIM: Is there a glass ceiling? Is there an old-boy network?
Goward: I don’t know whether there is an old-boy network, but a lot of women feel they are invisible. Is there a glass ceiling? I think it is more likely to be that – either inadvertently or because companies push them that way or because women do like people – women end up in HR, corporate relations or marketing. None of those areas get you to the top. You have to be operations manager to become CEO of a company. You have to have financial experience. You even have women lawyers and computer engineers ending up in HR. I was talking at an HR conference last week, and they were all women. I said: “Where are all the men?” And they said: “They’re doing IR. They’re doing the stuff before the courts, we do the hard stuff face-to-face with the staff.”
AIM: The “mummy track” is said to be a form of institutionalised sex discrimination. Is it an excuse to pay women less and to swell the ranks of middle management?
Goward: Yes. It is pay inequity by another name. You go into HR, and you get $40,000 a year. You go into IR and they pay you $80,000 a year.
AIM: Despite economic growth, surveys show that few people believe there has been an improvement in quality of life. Some data even suggests it is getting worse. If they are earning more, they are also working harder.
Goward: They are not earning more. The single largest source of improved family income in Australia is that of the second earner, that is, the wife. Since 1980, there has been a 16% increase in the number of women, mothers, who work. So, families have more, but the increase in living standards has come at the price of two people working.