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Australia’s male Champions of Change share their experiences in promoting gender balance within their business

Fifteen of Australia’s top CEOs have produced a business letter outlining their experiences in elevating the representation of women in leadership, stimulating thought and discussion on the issue.  What is unusual of the report though – and what we’ve come to expect from the gender balance debate – is the absence of women contributors.  Instead, the report launched in Sydney last week by The Governor General, Quentin Bryce, features insights from an all-male “Champions of Change” group. 

The elevation of gender balance from a women’s issue to a core business issue is a major advancement.  When 97% of all CEOs and 98% of company chairs in our top public companies are men, it’s superfluous to ask the women why they’re not making it: they’re not the ones making the appointments, after all. 

Better to focus on the leaders with the power to drive change and influence their business – the men – and that was the rationale behind The Male Champions of Change initiative launched by Commissioner Broderick in 2010.  Members of the exclusive group include the CEOs of Woolworths, Telstra, IBM, Deloitte, Qantas, Citi, Commonwealth Bank and more.

Eighteen months on, and what have these top CEOs learned from the experience?  This is the subject of the new business letter, and has been summarized by its authors across 3 key phases:

Phase 1: Getting in the game. This is about putting gender balance firmly onto the CEOs agenda and all of Male Champions have achieved this. Analysis has begun, data is scutinised, Gender Diversity Councils have been formed, barriers and challenges to the promotion of women have been brought to the surface, and programs and enablers to support women are being identified. Despite all the energy and investment though, this phase is very much about discovering “what we need to do”.

Phase 2: Getting serious. This is where the CEO shifts from being interested to being truly committed. Some of the Male Champions have made this shift, and are giving the issue of women’s representation in leadership the same treatment as other transformational business objectives. There’s a transition in responsibility from HR to the line, from the top down, and the same measurement and management disciplines are put in place as for other business priorities. Success in this phase could include key appointments that break the old paradigm, challenge and overcome bias, and interventions to existing talent and recruitment policies.

Phase 3: Capturing diversity advantage. This phase takes women’s representation as a business issue to a higher level—by regarding it as a cultural imperative. This describes the highest aspiration and most of the Male Champions see themselves as still far from this end state. To make the transition, they are looking to engage people from all parts of the organisation who are committed to the goal of creating an inclusive leadership culture and they intend to weed out entrenched bias and barriers, including mainstreaming flexibility in the workplace.

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‘I believe that having women in leadership is important for businesses. In the past, I’ve worked with people who don’t share my conviction. That doesn’t mean I give up. I just make them accountable and push until they take action. Once they start, their conviction is bound to grow.’

Kevin McCann AM, Chair & Non-Executive Director

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I like this report because it acknowledges the successes and also the failures of organisations to fully harness their top female talent – and then suggests a pathway forward.  There are some helpful tips and anecdotes, some great case studies, and practical resources that any business leader seeking to create gender balance would find helpful.  To access the full report, click here.


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