Why Lori Tyrrell Considered Wearing Boots All Summer

From Lori Tyrrell:

Today, my 2 year old son voiced his first comprehension of gender differences based on an observation about clothing. We were putting on his boots and he said, “girls don’t wear boots, only boys”. Considering I wear boots almost exclusively through winter, and see us as role model parents when it comes to demonstrating equality between men and women, I was wildly curious about his comment.

”Why do you think that Baby Saxon?” He replied, because “I am a boy and I wear boots”. Now his answer may seem very elementary, but given my learning in this area, I recognized it as a quite a poignant demonstration of how our unconscious bias forms, and how early in life it starts.

Unconscious bias exists in all of us, cemented deep in our psyche, formed and molded throughout our entire lives by our personal experiences and influences, possibly even before we are aware enough to observe that “only boys wear boots”.

Specific to gender equality, unconscious bias poses a huge blind spot for both the holder and the receiver of the bias, and makes gender inequality in the workplace a much more complex problem. However pronouncing “gender inequality in the workplace is a complex problem” is like saying “grass is green”. I suggest “seeking to understand” is more constructive & helpful to the discussion.

So, do I upset the “forming” process of his developing unconscious bias by wearing boots all through summer? Maybe, but that would probably do more to reinforce my lack of fashion sense!!

The gender gap is now recognized as enough of a societal issue that the Australian Government has implemented laws to regulate and support the increase of women in the workforce, companies are investing in diversity training and development for their staff, activists are stimulating discussion around the topic to raise awareness and educate people, and the discussion is getting louder.

It’s progress, but here is my issue with the direction of this progress – none of it does anything to tackle the underlying unconscious or implicit bias that creates the issue in the first place.

Unconscious bias is such a strong and normal human condition, developed and cemented at such an early age that real change for anyone over the age of about 18 years of age is a genuinely long, hard slog.

I am not suggesting it can’t be done, but unlearning takes an inordinate amount time, focus and genuine personal motivation. Unless we are personally adversely affected by unconscious bias and gender inequality, it is unlikely that most of us will have the motivation to really change much.

Sadly, here is the thing – our unconscious bias IS personally adversely affecting us, but because it’s unconscious, we don’t even realize, despite the massive size & scale of the adverse impact.

In February 2015 the Australian Productivity Commission released some key findings from their Inquiry Report on Childcare and Early Childhood Learning.

From those key findings, we know that 25% of the women NOT in the workforce listed “caring for children” as the main reason they are NOT in the workforce – by contrast, only 2.95% of men stated the same.

When we look into the detail, of the 25% – more than half preferred to look after their children rather than return to paid work for an employer.

Now data can be interpreted to support or detract from any point, so I won’t make any absolutes regarding what this data means, but perhaps you will indulge me some hypotheses:

  • H1 The preferences of women in Australia demonstrate an unconscious societal bias – that it is a woman’s role to look after children.
  • H2 This unconscious societal bias makes it more likely that women will compromise her own career goals if her career goals cause a time sacrifice to her child care responsibilities.
  • H3 Career development experiences, promotional opportunities, workplace friendships and the ability to be a good corporate citizen are more available to women with no dependent children, and men.
  • H4 Trying to juggle paid work with childcare responsibilities is likely to cause an increased level of stress and anxiety for women (that can only be dulled by a long, deep glass/bottle of buttery, buttery chardonnay)

Potentially, what we think is our choice to stay home and take care of the children is actually an unconscious bias?

Potentially, if Australia evolved past child care responsibilities being a woman’s role we would see a higher participation of women in the workforce, a higher number of women in executive and board level roles, and no salary gap between men and women doing the same role.


On a macro level there are bigger prizes available too. Gender diversity is a lead indicator of a society’s readiness to accept other forms of diversity and so progress on legalizing same sex marriage, Australia’s treatment of refugees, the retirement age all hinge on our ability to challenge our bias to leverage the value.

Bias Twitter

At the very least we should aim to examine our preferences, reflect on them and adjust them accordingly. We have an opportunity to interrupt a cycle and teach our children about gender equality in a way they will never need to unlearn. Seems easier than wearing boots the whole of summer, but each to their own, right?!!

Lori Tyrrell

Lori Tyrell of OneThreeHR is joining @GGapGone for a WEBINAR ON UNCONSCIOUS BIAS. CLICK HERE to tune in. Lori coaches CEO’s, MD’s, leaders and HR professionals to reinvent the way they leverage HR to build profitable businesses. With a corporate background and a life-long affinity for the entrepreneurial market, Lori is in demand across Australia for her insights on a range of talent issues – Unconscious Bias included. Join us and you’ll see why.

@LoriTyrrell  @GGapGone

The Gender Pay Gap and The Hidden Ism

The Gender Pay Gap in Australia is at the highest level since 1994. 18.8% nationally and a whopping 25.7% in Western Australia.

Staggering though these figures are, rather than dwell here I’d like to talk about solutions.

(But if you’d like a breakdown by location, industry, age and expressed inclination to change, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s fact sheet is well researched and offers insightful slicing and dicing.


men named John

Policies that encourage female participation are seen by many as the panacea for getting more women into the leadership pipeline.

Progressive organisations of all sizes are likely to have gender policies in place, even if only as part of broader diversity policies. These policies benefit their customers as much as their employment brand. And yet. There is frequently a disconnect between the corporate policy and the lived reality for many employees.

Organisations who offer flexible work arrangements have managers saying “no that can’t be applied in your circumstances” – to both men and women. For the most part these managers are not intent on being mean or enforcing gender inequality. They are simply accustomed to a conservative model and cannot see how a newer arrangement can effectively deliver results.

The policy may be in place, but the culture is yet to adapt. 

Over coming weeks and months I’ll be speaking with business leaders who have managed to normalise flexibility. If systems are just for women, they’ll be VERY slow to take effect- if they do at all. Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of some getting an advantage based on anything but merit.

Isn’t that what we’re doing, at Gender Gap Gone? Not necessarily.

Sure, we want to give women en masse a competitive advantage, but not a free ride. Our top-down programs are mostly whole or business solutions. That’s about helping organisations to execute their gender agenda – which also means their diversity plans and smart behaviours, more broadly. The core business practices that negatively impact women in the workplace – such as rigid work arrangements, unprofessional behaviours and the hidden ism (more on that shortly) impact the broader workforce and business outputs.

Power to the Individual

At an individual level, career and support programs have long existed to assist an individual’s development and indeed career trajectory if that’s what they choose. The programs are too often coordinated by middle aged white men who do very well selling programs to the middle aged white decision makers in organisations. Please don’t misunderstand me here. There are a number of men in talent management who are indeed offering progressive solutions and critical thought leadership. There are many senior male leaders in talent management whom I consider one or two among my mentors. But they’re a rare find.

There are also a great many solo operator coaches across career and executive coaching. Their solutions are entirely tailored to the individual and they garner excellent engagement with clear ROI for clients. They however lack a united voice to reach the broader community to enact a change en masse.

The Shift In Career Management

In 2012 the talent management market saw a shift taking form. Previously businesses chose to engage talent providers based on the individuals at the helm and long term relationships. From 2012 the uptake rates started to drop dramatically. Pre-2012 the take up rate for external but business-paid career management programs was in the vicinity of 60% (although closer to 90% during the GFC). Post 2012 it’s not uncommon to see 0-10% take up on a traditional career management program, despite it being paid for by the boss.

Why is that?

In the past career management programs were most often offered during role redundancy. Career Management programs certainly soften the impacts of transition. With so many Australians already having experienced a redundancy or 2 or 3, we’re collectively more robust. Yet the vast majority still feel unprepared in both career direction and self-promotion. Why don’t more people take up the traditional programs being offered to them? Employees are too busy to take time out for the traditional delivery models. Online access reigns supreme.

Online career programs do not provide the full effect.

Without a coach, who can help you apply learning to your own circumstances? Who will stretch you to push further than you otherwise would? Who will hold you accountable so that you don’t give in to the distraction of the day to day? One to one coaching is essential in practically applied development action.

An effective 1:1 coach program will always deliver superior results over an online program alone. But if the only options consumer consider are online vs nothing? We’d prefer to deliver an excellent online program that also offers an affordable, easy-access 1:1 solution when and if the consumer is ready.

At Gender Gap Gone our coach model facilitates ease of uptake as well as workplace flexibility for our coaches.

Our coach team is spread across Sydney Melbourne and London. Just as many working women prefer to focus on development outside of work hours, our coaches like to work odd hours too. Many of them are building their own solo enterprises while others juggle Gender Gap Gone with raising families.

The point is that by creating a delivery model that provides flexibility for our coaches, we also deliver in a way that suits our customers.

Well, that’s to say that our research tells us this suits our would-be customers, perhaps I’ll revisit this topic in a blog some months after we launch and officially have customers!

Normalising Flexibility

Skype is a great enabler. Over coming weeks and months you’ll hear about organisations implementing teleworking as one method of normalising flexibility. The software to conduct meetings remotely is readily available and low cost. For many workers this reduces both their hours and the cost of working. How much time would you save each day if you didn’t need to iron, do a somewhat professional hair and makeup job, sit through traffic jams, leave the office to buy lunch and participate in countless water cooler conversations.

There are 2 key potential pitfalls for employees utilising the remote access model. Connectedness and The Water Cooler.

Connectedness is the easier to overcome: ‘gated’ social media is allowing vast global teams to conduct meetings and conversations. IBM is a great example. Employees are able to take ageing parents to appointments/deliver kids to soccer/attend a charity event mid afternoon, then plug back in or attend an online meeting at 7pm.

Widely discussed, our lifestyles have become busier. Flexible workplace practices allow careers to better integrate with our current lifestyle arrangements as well as global business models. Not only are employees more highly engaged, but the average outputs are greater. (Are you looking forward to that blog as much as we are?)


The danger of the water cooler is more subversive and far more risky for women. I’m referring to the casual conversations that happen in stolen moments, between work time, between meetings. Knowledge is often inadvertently shared amid the ‘How was your weekend?’ talk.

These casual conversations go to the very heart of the ‘other ism’. In speaking with business leaders about the Gender Gap and diversity in their organisations, there is a comment I come across repeatedly. “We don’t have to worry about sexism (ageism/racism etc) here, it’s just favouritism.”

STOP! WAIT! Here you’re describing unconscious bias in action.

For 8 years I worked exclusively in the recruitment industry (from duck pluckers to General Managers, across many industries and multiple countries). Since then I’ve designed and delivered recruitment training programs for small and large businesses. The singular common thread is that when I would ask a manager what they wanted to recruit, their answer was a version of ‘another me’. They would look to their skill sets, their experience and want to replicate it in their future team member. We tend to recruit in our own image.

“please find another me”

Favouritism: Unconscious Bias In Action

There are SOOO many pitfalls to this outlook. A whole team of ‘me’ will likely come very quickly and harmoniously to decisions, but they will be narrow and ill considered. A team filled with one type is unlikely to interact as well with other departments or with customers as if they were more reflective of those other stakeholder groups.

From where I stand, favouritism is the most dangerous of the barriers to gender equality in the workplace. Where the decision makers are largely middle aged and white, these men will proactively have to fight their unconscious bias in order not to hire middle aged white men to follow them.

The very best resourced HR teams cannot prevent archaic attitudes. Like one business I was working for, helping to secure a CFO. Day to day, the organisation was highly progressive. Enter the renegade dinosaur. In interview the silent partner dropped in unexpectedly to participate in the interview with the female front-runner. Early in the interview he bombastically demanded “You’re obviously about that age, you’d be going off to have babies soon, wouldn’t you?”.

The question was illegal. But the damage was done. The candidate was thrown off by the question and bombed the rest of the interview.

Recourse? Why bother? The organisation went from being highly desirable to no-thanks.

We can help organisations to align their gender policies to practice and culture, but we cannot remove the dinosaurs.

The thing is, at Gender Gap Gone we don’t think we need to. At least, we’ll leave that to someone else!

More Women In The Leadership Pipeline

Good business leaders will appoint the best person for the role. If the best person on the day is male, then the male should be appointed. In my time recruiting senior leadership roles, I would have loved to have put more women forward for consideration. There just weren’t more women applying. It’s one of the reasons my move from recruitment to executive coaching appealed to me so much.

Heard the statistic that women won’t apply unless they’re 100% qualified but men will apply if they’re 60% qualified?

Tara Sophia Mohr’s more in-depth look https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified      is worth the read.

What if we could get more women into the leadership pipeline? LOTS more women? Let’s face it, not all women are interested in leadership roles. But if we expose female employees en masse to the tools, competitive language and inspiration to drive their own careers forward… wouldn’t that start to tip the scales? We believe it will.

Back to the water cooler- what can women do about that? It’s the golden goose. While it’s not a woman’s responsibility to create an equitable working environment for herself, there are certainly things a woman can do to raise her profile and to ensure that the projects she works on are aligned to the organisation’s values. And yes, you guessed it, stay tuned to hear more from Gender Gap Gone associates and from thought leaders on proven ways to go about just that.

A word must be said on the very obvious self-indulgence of this Gender Gap Gone intro blog: it’s been all about us and our ideology. We happen to think we’re pretty interesting & that we have a compelling story to tell! In seriousness though, in future articles you can expect to hear from experts, industry leaders and thought leaders. We do believe that with voices trained on solutions, we’re far stronger together.

The Gender Gap issue is complex and so must the solutions be. The Gender Gap Gone team is sure proud to be leading a solutions – focused change. Our business is brand new but our expertise is tested. Our advice is not unique to women, but our model is ideally suited to women and the progression of women.

Whether you LEAD female employees or you ARE a female employee or perhaps you’ve a partner or friend who is one: I hope you too subscribe to the idea that quality information can empower change. Quality information is precisely what we plan to serve up in the Gender Gap Gone Blog. A weekly dose of how-to or inspiration or case studies, from our team and guest contributors.

I hope you’ll join me. Subscribe to the concept? Then please, subscribe to the blog too and pass it on. Like us on facebook.com/GenderGapGone or follow us on twitter @GGapGone Join the conversation. We’d love to hear your contribution.

Catherine Nolan is Founder and Director of Gender Gap Gone, gap gone com.au launching in July 2015. Her team of associates are experts in their fields, in the areas of Leadership and Development, Communications, Talent Management, Careers and Consulting. At the time of writing the business is 4 weeks away from launch and yet has already attracted media attention, public acclaim and a number of guest speaking engagements. Catherine is passionate about the positive impacts of self-power in seeing the Gender Gap Gone.