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Symposium 2011

Implementation - Elevating Representation of Women in Leadership

The Challenge

The global financial crisis has led to demands for greater transparency in corporate practices. But less attention has been paid to whom the players should be in this new environment. Corporate boar ...

The global financial crisis has led to demands for greater transparency in corporate practices. But less attention has been paid to whom the players should be in this new environment. Corporate boards across the world generally have a predominance of male directors. Research shows a lack of diversity in terms of gender, race/ethnicity and international expertise at a time when “global” defines the business climate.

In April 2010, Commissioner Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, was instrumental in bringing together some of Australia’s most influential and diverse male CEOs and Chairpersons to form the Male Champions of Change group. The group aims to use their individual and collective influence and commitment to ensure that the issue of women’s representation in leadership is elevated on the national business agenda. The group will also provide support and advice to Commissioner Broderick on this issue. The creation of Male Champions of Change shows an important recognition of the significant role that CEOs and Chairpersons have in achieving more gender balanced leadership in Australia.

In October 2011 the Male Champions of Change released a major report on Women's Leadership in the Australian corporate context. It is written in the collective voice as a letter from 15 business leaders to their peers outlining step-by-step the journey companies have taken to elevate women’s representation and sharing examples from their own companies.

From their collective experiences, the Male Champions of Change have identified three key phases that contribute to achieving the objective of women in leadership:

  • Phase 1: Getting in the game. The CEO becomes aware of the issue and builds conviction to act. An analysis of numbers and of barriers and challenges takes place. The role of HR is central to this phase as programs and enablers are put in place to promote women.
  • Phase 2: Getting serious. When moving to Phase 2 the CEO shifts from being interested to truly committed. As a result, the issue of women’s representation in leadership is given the same treatment as other transformational business objectives and it becomes a “business imperative.” The same measurement and management disciplines are put in place as for other business priorities. The organization manages to identify barriers and successfully intervenes to offset their impact.
  • Phase 3: Capturing diversity advantage. The shift from Phase 2 to Phase 3 takes women's representation as a business issue to a higher level—by regarding it as a cultural imperative. It is about tackling the underlying cultural barriers that work against the goal of greater representation of women in leadership. Involved CEOs maintain that even though it is a long process the payoff of a cultural shift goes further than just gender balance. The prime movers in this phase are engaged people from all parts of the organization who have committed to work towards the goal of creating an inclusive leadership culture.


Even though most members of the MCC group describe themselves in the report as not having reached Phase 3 yet, Mrs. Broderick qualifies the initiative as successful. She adds that this model merits replication, especially in economies like the U.S. or Canada, which are not likely to take the route of mandated quotas for women directors. The Male Champions of Change contribute to major research in the area of gender balance and act as strong public advocates for women’s leadership in the Australian business community.  The strategy has been so effective that more male CEOs now wish to be part of this council and the percentage of women directors has gone up in Australia since 2010.

The report is available at: http://humanrights.gov.au/sex_discrimination/publication/mcc/index.html

    Related Solutions

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    Symposium 2011

    Establish male “champions of change”—corporate CEOs who can be the public voice for gender diversity on boards and in senior management, and who can even sponsor and mentor women for ...

    Establish male “champions of change”—corporate CEOs who can be the public voice for gender diversity on boards and in senior management, and who can even sponsor and mentor women for board place ...

    Establish male “champions of change”—corporate CEOs who can be the public voice for gender diversity on boards and in senior management, and who can even sponsor and mentor women for board placement.

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    Include men in the process of empowering women.

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    Include men in the process of empowering women.

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