by Daniel Jeffares

I disagree with the fundamental premise upon which the debate about gender equality in the boardroom rests. Based on my considerable international experience of working at the director level of major organisations domestically and abroad in more than 20 countries, I can say that elevation to the top eschalons of corporate power depends on a great deal more than one’s competence.

With few exceptions, the people who attain status within such organisations have had a deep and continuous mentoring relationship with one or more older executives, who sponsor the younger person’s elevation through the ranks as they follow their mentor’s career path upwards. They typically devote the vast majority of their time and energy to immersing themselves in the complex fabric of the organisation’s DNA and serving the interests of their career sponsor.

Most weeks involve 12 hour days in the office and a handful of evening or weekend commitments to ensure that you only ever see you kids when you drive them to sport during the Saturday morning peak hour where you will spend your day networking with the other parents at your child’s elite private school. Reading to them in bed is a delight to you both but it ends all too soon and you know it could be another three days or more before you see them again though you all inhabit the same house. You’ll be obliged to compromise your ethics when it falls to you to front the media to explain your position on say mining coal seam gas from under our water catchments, representing the interests of your stakeholders ahead of those of your own family and the rest of the community if required.

After investing 30 years or more of your youth pursuing this path, you might, if you are simply extremely lucky and your network of close contacts built up over literally thousands of work function interactions yields a sponsor who will put you up for the board, you’ve made it.

I believe it is a career path open to all, should you choose to accept it, and those women currently at the peak of Australian business probably worked harder than most to get there. But let’s not diminish their achievements and debase the status of women in business by nominating a minimum female quota on the public boards.

I’d suggest that half of the people currently excluded from senior executive appointments by the glass ceiling are men. That’s because, rather than discriminating on the basis of gender, the glass ceiling actually discriminates against those who have not devoted themselves exclusively to their careers. That is an option that is open to us all.