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Symposium 2011

Proposal - Create a male leadership group to advocate

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.

Create a leadership group of influential male CEOs and Chairpersons from a diverse range of leading businesses to place the issue of women’s under-representation at decision-making level on the country’s business agenda.

One reason many initiatives aimed at increasing women’s representation at decision-making levels have not delivered thus far is that they focus solely on engaging and/or changing women—from the way women network to the way women lead. Too many organisations look to women alone to change the organisational practices that maintain the status quo. As we have seen in recent decades, this approach has had limited success. To accelerate change, many organisations have realised they need to stop treating gender as if it were just a woman’s burden. If organisations want to minimise gender disparities, they need to enable women and men to make behavioural changes. They also need to transform workplace norms and structures that entrench existing gender inequalities, including those that reinforce the male model of the ideal worker. And perhaps most important, organisations should enlist both women and men to work together as allies in changing the organisational norms and structures that perpetuate gender gaps. Without the avid support of men, who are generally the most powerful stakeholder group in most large businesses and who control most of the financial and other resources, significant progress toward gender equality is unlikely.1 Engaging men is crucial to moving forward.

The commitment from senior male leaders to significantly increase the representation of women in senior roles needs to be conscious, overt and specific. While CEOs need to do this within their organisations, Chairpersons, too, need to set specific goals for management and the board. Progress should be tracked annually. Whilst many best practice organisations rely heavily on external consultants and/or HR professionals to support corporate action through advice to the CEO and Chairperson, the key concept is “support”. The leader of such action must be the CEO (and Chairperson) and the commitment must be overt, sustained and backed up by consistent action.

The Male Champions of Change strategy is being trialled by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner as an initiative to increase women’s representation at decision-making levels in Australia.2 Fifteen CEOs and Chairpersons from Australia’s most influential companies have come together to use their personal commitment and collective influence to drive gender equality strategies at both an organisational and country level. The men have publicly adopted a gender equality charter. They share learning about what works, act as strong public advocates, model cultural change and create circles of influence with other men to increase gender diversity at board and senior management level. Later this month (October 2011), the Male Champions of Change will launch an evidence-based report that identifies strategies to increase the number of women in decision-making roles in the corporate sector. The report also pinpoints factors behind successful strategies for increasing women’s participation and profiles the experiences of the Male Champions of Change and their organisations.3

 

1 - See generally Australian Human Rights Commission, Women in Leadership, http://www.humanrights.gov.au/sex_discrimination/programs/women_leadership.html (viewed 6 September 2011). Also AFR Boss Magazine, Fairfax Media Publications, August 2011, Volume 12, www.afrboss.com.au

2 - See, for example, UN Division for the Advancement of Women, Women 2000 and Beyond: The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality (2008). At: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/w2000/W2000%20Men%20and%20Boys%20E%20web.pdf (viewed 6 September 2011); R.W. Connell, ‘The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality’, UN Doc. EGM/Men-Boys-GE/2003/BP.1 (2003), Paper to the Expert Group Meeting on The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality, Brasilia, Brazil, 21-24 October 2003. At: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/egm/men-boys2003/documents.html (viewed 6 September 2011).

3 - Gender Equality: A Business Imperative: An examination of successful case studies to close the gender gap” , Australian Human Rights Commission 12 October 2011.

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