‘Michelle Simmons was in Washington DC keynoting a high-end conference when word got out she’d just received $26 million from the federal government to help her UNSW team win the international race to become the first in the world to develop a quantum (size of a single atom) computer. Within 48 hours, Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank had chipped in another $10m each. Which pretty much makes Simmons the poster girl for the (Malcolm) Turnbull government’s tech-driven, business engaged, innovative future. She is the real thing.’
‘They don’t come more dauntless than Ian Chubb. A poster boy for persistence, Chubb has crisscrossed the country more times than he cares to remember, piling on more mileage than one of the armoured trucks that bears his name, banging the drum about science. We need a strategy, he says. We need scale. And we don’t need complacency. We’re punching well within our weight zone, and that’s on a good day. When Canberra didn’t listen, Chubb extended his tenure. Suddenly there was a new pair of boots in The Lodge and the chief scientist had a receptive audience. His hard work struck paydirt in an innovation statement harbouring, among other things, breathing space for critical research infrastructure and extra cash for CSIRO. It’s the first really solid good news for the research sector since the 2008 stimulus package. More importantly, it signifies a real change of emphasis on the importance and power of science. Chubb can take much of the credit. He’s no longer in the job, but his legacy is so vast this list would be incomplete without him.’
As well as the obvious greater print space dedicated to Ian compared with Michelle, it’s not difficult to detect marked gender bias in the language used to describe the two high- achievers. Michelle’s achievements are passive—she seems to have been gifted a sizeable sum from the government. (There is no mention of what she did to secure $26m funding). Then, upon receipt of funding, she passed on the funds to ‘help her UNSW team’ develop a pretty cool computer. Then, two large corporates gave her more money. So Michelle’s contribution is… receiving money and helping a university team to build a computer by giving them the money. Hmm. Something is missing here. Oh yes, her skills and expertise! Rather that listing her professional attributes and achievements, Michelle is described as a poster girl for—wait for it—a male-led government! And then to rub salt in the wound, Turnbull’s government is described as tech-driven, business-engaged, innovative. Those adjectives are not used to describe Michelle. In fact, no adjectives are used to describe Michelle. Michelle is a noun—a poster girl and ‘the real thing’ (whatever that means?)
Now, what about Ian? Well, Ian is not a poster boy of anyone but himself. In fact, Ian is a poster boy for ‘persistence’. Ian is not certainly not passive. Ian is ‘dauntless’, relentless in his efforts to cover the country in his ‘armoured trucks’ while ‘banging a drum’ for science. Ian has a commanding voice. “We need a strategy. We need scale. We don’t need complacency”. Ian is direct, forceful and determined—he punches on, works hard, and takes control, putting himself in The Lodge. His achievements are described as critical, solid, and important. No mention of corporate funding here—Ian knows how to generate cash on his own. He doesn’t need the help of others. He can take most of the credit for his successes. His legacy is as vast as his description is long.
Gender bias in performance assessment and feedback at work has profound implications. If recruiters and managers expect and believe women to be more team-oriented and men to be more independent in their jobs, women are more likely to be recruited and encouraged into support roles instead of revenue-generating positions that lead to executive jobs. Globally, far fewer women than men hold executive roles. But when they do, a disproportionate number of women can be found in CHRO/HRD, CFO and CMO roles, while the CEO, COO, CIO and Sales Director roles are dominated by men.