You are here: Home Knowledge Base Society Implementing Board Diversity Proposals Engage CEOs and senior leaders by forming small peer groups of “Champions of Change” which commit to working together to increase the representation of women in leadership
Symposium 2012

Proposal - Engage CEOs and senior leaders by forming small peer groups of “Champions of Change” which commit to working together to increase the representation of women in leadership

The Challenge

In the wake of the global crisis, there is clear momentum towards changing the way that business is conducted—whether in the form of increased regulations, greater accountability or changing corpora ...

In the wake of the global crisis, there is clear momentum towards changing the way that business is conducted—whether in the form of increased regulations, greater accountability or changing corporate leadership. Such initiatives include changing the composition of corporate boards to include more women. What progress has been made on these initiatives and what would make them more effective?

The challenge: Over the last few years, we have seen a growing recognition of the importance of including more women in decision-making roles and of the benefits gained by society and business in doing so.  In Australia, if you go back 5 years, we were starting from a low base, with less than 9% of board seats of our top companies held by women.  Smaller companies (beyond the top 200) were viewed as a virtual “women free zone.”  Worse than the modest starting place, there had been no progress in more than 5 years.

It became clear to many of us as we looked at this challenge, that to make real progress there needed to more visible leadership and engagement of men.  In many countries, the reality is that men hold much of the power in decision-making.  Research shows that engaging men is critical to successful change, given the power base, particularly in business.

The Male Champions of Change: Australia’s Male Champions of Change is a unique model and opportunity for peers to work across industries and functions focused on increasing the representation of women in leadership.  Started with 12 CEOs and Non-Executive Directors in 2011, and convened by Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, it has now grown to 22 members.  As Male Champions of Change, we commit to actively advancing gender equality across our organisations and to acting as public advocates.  This group can be a model for engaging men across industries, functions and even levels of management.

How the Male Champions of Change works:  The group gets together 4 times per year to focus on what we can do individually, and collectively to increase the representation of women in leadership.  There is a clear charter that lays out our commitments.  There isa no delegates rule – only the CEO or Executive Director is permitted to attend.  More than 75% of us attend each meeting, which compares extremely favourably to similar groups, and I think demonstrates real commitment.

We work together in many ways – by deepening our own understanding, sharing ideas, by bi-lateral cooperation or even taking on a challenge collectively.  Last year, with support from McKinsey & Company, we produced a report documenting our collective experience – warts and all – which has been downloaded more than 100,000 times, and was sent to more than 2.000 Australian companies.  We are now working together in 3 different action groups – each seeking to make a significant contribution to a key topic – Mainstreaming Flexibility, Bold Ideas and the Role of the Leader.  We also speak out publicly around Women’s Leadership, and privately with peers around what they are doing to support change.

The key to the strategy is that the group is self-directed.  Of course, Liz Broderick was critical to getting us started, and continues to provide mentorship and support to us.  However, we own the focus of the group and how solutions that we generate might be implemented.  Our peer grouping ensures discipline and even creates competitive spirit.

While the Male Champions of Change are only part of the set of solutions that have made a difference in Australia (our Stock Exchanges Guidelines and actions by other groups have also been critical), they have the potential to make a very real difference.

Where are we now: there has been progress in Australia, though there is clearly much to do.  As of September, we were at 15% of women on boards across our top 200 companies.  Women comprise about 24% of new appointments to boards so far this year.  We must not forget that this number was 5% as recently as 2009.  What’s encouraging about the appointments over the last few years is that many are women who haven’t served on an ASX board in the past, so we are growing the pool of experienced women.

There is still much to do, and we are still early in our stock exchange guideline implementation, which we believe will make a big difference.  The Male Champions of Change is still only 2 years old, and we know we have many more contributions to make to this important challenge.

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