Why embracing authenticity is the key to removing gender bias in our workplaces


How many times have you heard little boys described as “strong”, while the same behaviour in a little girl would be called “bossy”?  Or a male CEO described as “determined or smart” while a female demonstrating the same business acumen would be called “calculating or shrewd”?

There’s no escaping the fact that we are all subject to a gendered view of the world, which is reflected in the way we speak and how we view others and ourselves.

And there’s no denying that our culture is reflected in our workplaces: according to statistics released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in August, women hold just 14.2% of Chair positions and 15.4% of CEO positions.

In today’s world, you cannot be a successful leader without recognising the need for change, and being able to realise it. Successful leaders also know that organisational change is inseparable from individual change – for organisational change to occur, individuals must be on board.

I believe there is one quality of leadership that can help override gender bias– and that quality is authenticity.

The thing about authenticity is that it has no gender.

In my role as CEO of YMCA NSW, I lead an organisation employing 2,400 people responsible for the wellbeing of more than four million Australians annually. It’s been many years since I began my leadership journey, and I believe the importance of authenticity in a leader simply cannot be overstated.

As a leader, if I am committed to authenticity, then I am committed to being my real and true and best self. I also am committed to seeing others as they truly are – their strengths and their character, their values and their best true selves. Gender fades into irrelevancy.

An environment driven by true authentic leadership is, simply, an environment where gender bias cannot survive.

In a recent piece of research on gender equality, journalist Catherine Fox talked about how we need to challenge the “deficit model of women” which tells them “they need to be fixed to act more like men”. Fox argues that instead, what we need is to reboot the system.

And we way we do that is for all of us – men and women, from the top leadership down and throughout organisations – to embrace authenticity.

See also: Workforce diversity isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s necessary for innovation, businesses warned


About the author

Leisa Hart has been the CEO of the community not-for-profit YMCA NSW since 2014. She has also held leadership positions at Mission Australia, Telstra, IBM and Computer Associates. Dynamic Business interviewed her for the article Job sharing enables mums to continue building their careers – and their employers benefit too.