Aussie jockey smashes the horse racing glass ceiling

Aussie jockey smashes the horse racing glass ceiling

In Australia, the first Tuesday of November each year, is the Melbourne Cup. A 3,200m horse race that stops a nation.  So much so, that it’s a public holiday in its host city.  Today represented the 155th running of the race. At about 2pm Brisbane time, those who were watching, witnessed history being made.

The first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.  Take a bow, Michelle Payne.  You’ve made history through your skills, guts, determination and attitude.

Amazing feats if you consider:

  • Prince of Penzance was a rank outsider at odds of $70 (down from $100 after drawing barrier #1)
  • In a sport dominated by men and in the words of the jockey, Michelle Payne, “To think that Darren Weir has given me a go in such a chauvinistic sport … I want to say everyone else can get stuffed. We are strong enough.”

Michelle has socked it to a sport which hasn’t welcomed her with open arms.  It’s likely she’s fought hard to get where she has got – to the very top of the game in Australia.  She’s succeeded where many others will fail – but there is one thing for certain – she has trail blazed the way for others to follow in her footsteps.

The Courier Mail (our local Brisbane newspaper) calls her the princess of the turf. I’m sure she’d just appreciate being called “the Melbourne Cup winner”. But I have no doubt, with the amazing attitude she’s displayed immediately following the race, she’ll roll with the princess label.  She’ll rock it like the race-winning, superstar she is.

Prince and Princess combine for Cup win

Prince and Princess combine for Cup win

As a trail blazer, she’s taking it to her doubters.  Just like local crew tech girls are super heroes who are getting young girls into STEM, through to amazing global work of the Geek Girls Academy, and everywhere in between, there is  sustained effort and growing  board-room level discussions about getting more women into STEM and into leadership.

And not just because they are women.  We are talking about smart, switched-on, empowering and experienced leaders.  They are technical experts.  They challenge the status quo and they are changing their industries and ultimately the country by giving everything a good shake.  Michelle Payne has questioned the status quo.  She’s risen above the barbs (which I’m assuming she’s experienced).  And boy, has she proved her doubters wrong.

I’ve never been a fan of diversity for diversity sake – but the proof is in the research.  Diversity drives drive better business performance.

As the McKinsey graph below from the 2015 Women In The Workplace (US study) shows, the glass ceiling for women in leadership is real.

It’s getting better – but not quick enough for transformative change to be realised.

The glass ceiling of women in leadership - US

The glass ceiling of women in leadership – US

The McKinsey report found that (in the US) the leadership ambition gap persists; and that gender diversity is not considered a priority.  That there are many employee programs, but experience low participation. The sexes networks are different, meaning that women can often have less access to senior level sponsorship and mentors. And there is a considerable inequity gap in the home.

Seriously?  What do we need to do to change this gap?  What role does the community and society have to play?

And let’s be real for a moment. This article isn’t just about “rah rah girlpower”. I couldn’t be further from the girl power stereotype.

It is about highlighting and celebrating a brilliant, unassuming woman, who just hit the top of her game. She’s beat the odds.  Let’s celebrate her resilience and determination.  Tell her story to excite the possibilities for the future generations.

And think about how you can create real opportunities for people from all backgrounds and experiences.  Real opportunities which aren’t token.  This isn’t about sheep dipping people into your “programs”.  Challenge your behaviours. Engage your workforce to really understand their perspectives and barriers (using data+conversations). Make sustained organisational change.

And start doing it today – because change like this…. It won’t happen overnight.  But it will happen, if you want it to.  And I mean really, honestly, believe in it and make it happen.  It will be hard work. But the rewards will be worth it.

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