Fiona Krautil

on Tuesday, 22 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Interviews about the Glass Ceiling

Fiona Krautil

Fiona Krautil was appointed Federal Director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) in April 1999. Her work involves contact with more than 3,000 private sector organisations[ i] as well as policy advice to the Federal Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business.

Prior to EOWA, Krautil was Head of Diversity at Westpac where she led the bank’s ‘leading practice’ diversity process, achieving a shift in the organisation’s culture to provide a workplace that was more inclusive for women. Westpac subsequently received a Silver Corporate Work and Family Award[ ii] in 1998.

Before joining Westpac, Fiona was Equal Opportunity Manager at Esso Australia where she successfully developed and implemented diversity strategies that resulted in Esso winning a number of best practice awards. She is also a member of the National Diversity Think Tank[ iii] and the Enterprise and Career Education Foundation (ECEF) board.

With a Bachelor of Science Degree with Honours, a Post Graduate Diploma in Management and a Master of Business in Change Management, Fiona is the proud mother of two daughters: Stephanie, 11, and Alexandra, 6.

[ 1]        Employers covered by the Act include private sector employers, community organisations, non-government schools, trade unions and group training companies with 100 or more staff. All universities in Australia are also covered by the Act.

[ 2]        The Work and Family Unit, Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business run corporate Work and Family Awards.

[ 3]        The National Diversity Think Tank is a collaborative working forum providing leadership in developing, sharing, implementing and evaluating leading-edge diversity models and materials to provide better solutions for the Asia-Pacific region.

To view Fiona Krautil's speech, click on the title below:


Interview with Fiona Krautil

Do you believe there are barriers preventing women from advancing, regardless of accomplishments or merit? 

Significant barriers to the advancement of women remain a reality in the Australian workplace … even in 2002. I prefer, though, to talk about a ‘sticky floor’  rather than the ‘glass ceiling’. For many, the glass ceiling implies women in management only; in fact, I am talking about women at all work levels, from the shop floor upward.   

In my experience, the issue of support roles being filled typically by women, and senior management typically being filled by men, is a problem across all professions. Essentially, women still have to be twice as savvy as their male colleagues if they want to be appointed to senior decision-making roles; and once there, have to constantly prove that they can do the job. In contrast, it is usually assumed that the men will succeed! 

The barriers to women advancement are often culturally embedded and sufficiently ‘invisible’ that they are difficult to change. For example, decision-makers (of both genders) continue to make assumptions about what women can - and cannot - do. Typically, the promotion of women is undermined because managers ask questions about female candidates that they don’t usually ask about men. Are women ‘tough enough’ to be effective in senior roles or to work with important clients? Will a woman be prepared to relocate?  These are just some of the issues raised that constantly undermine women's' opportunities. 

And it’s a vicious circle. Because women don’t get promoted as often as men, women have less access to informal leadership networks. It’s in the informal networks that strategic issues are discussed and solved and that provide mentorship to the next generation. Typically, women have less exposure to the thinking and decision-making processes that fuel success in organisations. 

How can the barriers be dismantled? 

The barrier has always been penetrable for one or two outstanding women who are able and willing to operate in the traditional ‘blokey’ environment. However, many women find with time that they expend too much additional energy (compared to their male peers) operating in a culture that is not naturally inclusive … and actively choose to opt out.  

A lot of senior women also opt for Board appointments, or set up their own small business. This is not good for the future of Australian business. Australian organisations need to develop a pipeline of female talent from the bottom to the top of the organisation if they want to be globally competitive. To do this they need leadership and commitment to action from the CEO or Board, with managers and supervisors held accountable (through pay) for attracting and developing female talent.

To achieve outcomes for women an organisation’s leadership needs to: (1) identify the issues for women in an organisation and take action; (2) ensure people management policies and practices meet the needs of contemporary women (such as, for example, senior roles providing women with carer flexibility); (3) reconfigure recruitment and promotion process so that they deliver quality women on every short-list for every job; (4)  ensure women are given equal opportunities to manage the clients or assignments that lead to promotion; (5)  include women in informal networks at appropriate venues and at appropriate times; (6) ensure ‘zero tolerance’ of sexual harassment in the organisation at all times; (7) allow women to rear children for a period of time and still stay on the career path; (8) ensure women are paid equitably for their contribution ; and (9) transform the workplace culture so that it allows a group of women to succeed (not just the occasional one or two).  

Do you consider you have broken through the glass ceiling in your profession? If yes, how have you done this? 

Yes - and no. Yes, because I am a female Director of a Federal Government Statutory Authority and simultaneously a rearer of 2 daughters, 6 and 11 years respectively. In many ways, I am a typical working mother! No, because the public sector typically recognises women more than the private sector. For example, one in 10 managers in the private sector is female while in the public service, this figure rises to one in three. Also, my current role is in a traditionally female field.  

To get to this point in my career, I have had to clearly set my work and my family goals - and commit myself to action. I have had excellent support from my partner and extended family, particularly when my children were young. I have also always had access to affordable quality childcare (either community or work-based) and ongoing access to flexible work hours. I turned down a job offer when my children were small because they would not allow me to work flexibly after the birth of my second child.  

I have also consistently grasped any opportunity in both the public and private sector to progress my tertiary studies.  

Building a close external network of female business colleagues, I believe, has also been integral to my success, while personal leadership coaching on and off over the past 10 years has also contributed significantly to my sense of what is possible.     

I also believe you have to take risks in life; I have done so consistently throughout my career. Firstly, I had children when I had every intention of continuing to work and had serious ambitions. There were few female role models for me at the time to show me the way. I also made the transition from the public sector (Victorian State Government) to the private sector in the late-80s.  Later, I moved interstate with my husband (who had given up his job to move) and children to take on a new role, proving the assumptions about women and relocation wrong. More recently, I have returned to the public sector because of the challenge inherent in my current role and the opportunity it affords me to make a positive difference to the Australian workplace landscape.  

In general, what do you see as the underlying cause that must be addressed to shatter the glass ceiling in corporate and public Australia? 

Organisational leaders must lead by example and take personal action to drive change, rather than delegate responsibility to the Human Resource Department to ‘fix it’. They need to listen to their female staff and take personal action to realign their workplace cultures by holding managers and supervisors at all levels accountable for growing a pipeline of talented diverse women in the organisation  - from the ‘sticky floor’ to the very top. 

Women also need to speak up as a group and identify their own solutions so that they can fully contribute on the work and the home front if they so choose. More and more Australian women are choosing a career - not simply a job! Frankly, it’s plain dumb for business leaders to ignore the growing presence and presence of women in the labour force today.