Ita Buttrose has weighed into the controversy surrounding Gina Rinehart’s push for two Fairfax board seats in Women’s Agenda. She claims that the refusal to grant Rinehart’s request is “extraordinary” and amounts to sexism, noting the credentials Rinehart brings to the board, including her business acumen and investment potential.

Buttrose claims that Rinehart’s power lays behind the refusal, saying “She wouldn’t be the first powerful woman to be blocked.”

Unfortunately, women remain in token numbers at senior organisational levels and on boards. Under token conditions, women tend to attract the kind of attention that Ita Buttrose rightly laments. When women are present in token numbers, we’re primed to see them, and to judge their actions, as women. And we talk about them as women, not as leaders, bosses, and directors. We focus on how they look rather than what they contribute. Under the same circumstances, we don’t think of and talk about men as men, but as leaders.

It is an unfortunate reality that women who perform well in male gender-stereotyped roles and domains are not liked. They attract negative reactions that focus primarily on their interpersonal capabilities. Both women and men see them as less desirable as bosses, compared with men described in similar ways. Buttrose confirms this with her analysis of the way in which Gina Rinehart was denigrated on a recent episode of Q&A.




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