My kingdom for a diverse talent pipeline!

Posted in: Bloggery

Tony Abbot claimed when questioned as to why, when he formed government last year, only one woman was appointed to a 15 person cabinet, that there simply weren’t enough women in the pipeline ready to step in to a cabinet post. Was he right? Were the appointments merit-based? Were there no women with the experience and intelligence available to fill those key roles?

The question of talent pipeline and merit is a perplexing one. One of the findings from Macfarlan Lane’s Getting to Gender Diversity Report was that one of the five main barriers to achieving gender diversity in organisations is an unhealthy pipeline. Research, such as Castilla and Bernard’s investigation into meritocracy[1]  finds, “when an organization is explicitly presented as meritocratic, individuals in managerial positions favour a male employee over an equally qualified female employee.”  This suggests even where women are candidates for promotion, salary increases and stretch opportunities, unconscious biases and practices inevitably leave them behind.

The pipeline blockage may be explained by not just one single event – but through a multitude of unintended, unconscious decisions by managers and business leaders. Barriers to equality of opportunity come in the form of out of date organisational practices, such as lack of flexible working conditions and the stereotyping of desired applicants for roles and promotions. The real concern about ineffective pipelines is not so much in the outlying sectors such engineering (engineering degrees still only have 10% enrolments from women[2]) but in the sectors such as financial services and retail, where women enter the workforce in equal numbers and progress in equal numbers until they reach the mysterious mid to senior management levels where it all starts to go wrong.

Healthy talent pipelines exist in organisations where leaders have said “why not?” to a change in the status quo; where they have identified and “called” discriminatory practices; and where they have insisted upon significant and long lasting change.

This month’s blog was written by Kirsten Bartlett, Senior Consultant at Macfarlan Lane.



[1] The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations, Emilio J. Castilla, Stephen Benard, (Massachusetts Institute of Technology  and Indiana University)

[2] http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-australia