“…..I would rather have a male,” says Gerry Harvey of Harvey Norman.

Earlier this year, Gerry Harvey of retailer Harvey Norman was caught in a major media storm due to his comments following the resignation of ex AMP leader Catherine Brenner. Harvey allegedly told the ABC of the frustration men he is acquainted to feel over having to put women on boards just to ‘help fill the target or make the board look better’. He proceeded to say, “If they talk to me they say ‘Oh it looks better if I put a woman on but realistically I probably would rather have a male.”

Harvey’s comments are both ignorant and condescending towards women. In relation to the comment about how men feel frustrated having to put women on boards, one has to wonder where this frustration stems from. If a candidate, be it male or female has the capacity to fulfill the needs of the role, what is the problem? Frustration is imminent only if a company promotes women into these positions merely to fulfill some bogus diversity agenda rather than doing so because they truly understand and appreciate the importance of diversity in their teams. Diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones in decision making because they process information more carefully. This practice should not be a source of frustration, rather should be viewed as a valuable asset.

The ‘exclusion’ mentality pattern of men like Gerry who “would rather have a male,” on their boards needs to be done away with. It appears his comments about preferring males over female wasn’t just a lip service after all, it is affirmed by the current structure of the managing board of Harvey Norman. Only one female sits on it! This exclusion mentality and practice contributes to sustaining the ‘glass ceiling’ effect, it stops women and other minority groups from advancing to uppermost levels in their areas of work.

If these discriminating attitudes prevail, equal opportunities between the genders will never be reached. People in positions of high influence like Gerry Harvey ought to change their tune. Not only should they support diversity in general but their organizations must reflect this. There is absolutely nothing frustrating about having worthy female talent in board rooms. Preferring one gender over the other should be a thing of the past.


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