How to make real progress on gender equality in your business

- March 8, 2021 3 MIN READ
workplace meeting,
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It’s time to break the Gender Code.

It’s International Women’s Day, an important day of celebration, but also a timely reminder of the gender imbalances which still exist in our workforce. 

Although I welcomed the news that the gender pay gap is starting to close, the truth is we still aren’t seeing enough representation of women in leadership roles at work. 


Why is this? 

There’s compelling evidence of the need to bring more women into leadership roles in organisations across the world. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

And most leaders are convinced of the business case imperative.

Yet despite increased investment in diversity and inclusion, and efforts to address gender inequities, we’re still not making enough progress when it comes to female representation in leadership. 


It comes down to the Gender Code

What do I mean by the Gender Code? I’m referring to the set of default beliefs we all recognise about the ‘natural’ differences between men and women that keeps the genders firmly in different boxes and specifically prevents women from pursuing their dreams and achieving success. 

The Gender Code has been deeply embedded into our culture over millennia and it’s like a societal algorithm. The Gender Code pigeonholes women in the role of carer and men in the role of provider. And unfortunately, the work of the provider is still more highly-valued by individuals, workplaces and society, than the work of the carer. 

It also means our corporate hierarchies have been built with men in mind, and that the organisational structures we’ve created don’t lend themselves to female success. 


How can we create change? 

As the Gender Code is structural – not personal – systemic change is required. Organisations need to implement and drive policies to support working parents, incorporate ‘norms’ into workplace culture which help everyone have a voice, and create rules of belonging where people feel safe to contribute, without fear of exclusion.

This will provide an environment where senior teams can successfully build more gender-balanced organisations. And both men and women can break the Gender Code, unlock their potential and maximise their growth – personally and professionally.


The Gender Code means we’re missing out on untapped talent

When I conducted my major research project into women who are leaders at work and also the lead parent at home, I found many similarities about the pressures women are under due to the Gender Code.

Danielle Dobson

This includes pressures around perfectionism, the belief we can somehow ‘have it all’, and a vicious cycle of guilt for failing to balance work and family. 

The Gender Code leaves women yearning for a successful career, but not seeing how they can have it without their family and wellbeing suffering.

By understanding the impact of the Gender Code in their organisations, leaders can leverage the power of the high performing women they already have, attract female leaders into their organisation, elevate their corporate brand, develop a competitive advantage and boost their bottom-line.


Where to start? 

When you understand what drives the personal motivations of women in leadership, you are better able to develop programs and advise their decisions.

Organisational change means looking at programs that are more inclusive, and which enable women to thrive, rather than setting them up to fail in a system that was never designed for their success. 

The first step is opening up to real conversations in your organisation. Truly listening to your team, and working out the pressures they’re under, and how gender can impact this. 

Once we become aware of the Gender Code, and the imbalance it gives to our workforce, we’re able to start unlocking the true potential of the women AND the men on our teams. So that we can each create a life of success, on our own terms. 

I love helping organisations break the Gender Code to unlock the full potential of their women, and by developing inclusive leaders and businesses. 

Find out more at codeconversations.com.au 


  • Danielle Dobson is a speaker, author, facilitator and mother. Her business Code Conversations helps organisations unlock the potential of the women already on their teams, and attract the right female talent in the future. codeconversations.com.au