A-ha moments don't discriminate

As the convenor of  CEOs Roundtables since I started with CEOs for Gender Equity in early 2016, our conversations led by our members have facilitated many learnings.

In closing the conversations, CEOs and leaders make commitments to take back to their workplaces to make a difference in Western Australia.

I've often referred to these learnings as the 'penny-drop' or 'a-ha' moments that we have when we gain insights and experiences of others, that are incidental to gender equity systems, policies or processes that drive workplace compliance.

Whilst I am always learning, this week I was also grateful for my own “a-ha”, “penny-drop moment”. In fact I had more than one …

That is, in leading CEOs for Gender Equity I am also advocating for change. I, too am a leader. And it is a huge privilege, to be a leader in advocating for women in the workplace.

Until now I have mostly been an observer, noting the powerful CEO-led initiatives that leaders are taking back to their workplaces.

I'd like to share some insights and learnings that most resonated with me. These are three commitments that I am bringing back to my work for CEOs for Gender Equity:

  1. Leadership is for influence; and I must use it to make a difference for others. That is, I can share the why, be compelling and bring others along the journey. Today I accepted that the privilege of leadership comes with the responsibility to influence broadly and to sustain that influence for ongoing impact. So the key for me is how to ensure my work and the work of CEOs for Gender Equity and our commitment to ‘turning the dial’ in Western Australia is sustained? Exploring ways to lock it in are my next steps. 
  2. If merit was such an objective selection tool, why do I persistently hear that we can’t find any right women with the right skills at the right time? If men are persistently over-represented in the recruitment process, how can we do more to include more women in the process? Expanding our view of merit does not mean dropping the bar for women. This week I learned that in environments where a cultural transformation is needed, aren’t we better off recruiting for values and intent, to ensure that the leaders we are recruiting are truly fit for purpose? Of course, this does not mean we exclude competencies as a benchmark. It does however mean we don’t look at gaps in (women's) CVs as a de-railer for leadership roles. I am going to start exploring ways to further engage HR and recruitment practitioners in this conversation.
  3. In advocating for change, traditional views and ideas are challenged that can be uncomfortable for some. That is, some believe that change needs to happen at all levels, that this is about men too and who wants to be a feminist anyway? None of these notions is at odds with CEOs for Gender Equity; we are simply advocating that real and long-term change starts at the top, and it starts with CEOs. Our approach is not mutually exclusive of other solutions and approaches. Naturally, there is a degree of resistance expected in striving for gender equity – I get that it can be polarising for some. This week however was the first time in my mind that I acknowledged resistance, that is, from very unlikely sources. Reminding myself of our vision, purpose and my values is key to me staying the course.

Thanks to University of Western Australia, Vice Chancellor, Professor Dawn Freshwater for hosting our final CEOs Roundtable for 2017 that was co-facilitated with Nigel Hearne, Managing Director, Chevron Australia.

A workplace representative of the community is a workplace that can connect with its community; that is why as the Vice-Chancellor of The University of Western Australia I am a proud member of CEOs for Gender Equity. I am committed to ensuring that UWA is a leader in providing opportunities for women to advance and thrive in their professional and academic careers. The University has recently been selected to participate in the Athena SWAN Charter pilot project being implemented by The Australian Academy of Science to improve gender equity in Australian organisations which cover the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine. The international initiative highlights the importance of changing career outcomes for women in these fields and UWA is championing this cause. As a member of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Women in Science Committee, I am proud of our work which significantly enhances career pathways in research for women. At UWA we also actively promote career opportunities to the next generation of female leaders through our schools engagement strategy. At UWA we are committed to cultural change to ensure gender equity and I am pleased we are leading by example.

Professor Dawn Freshwater, Vice Chancellor, the University of Western Australia

Tania Cecconi

Since 2016, I have been thrilled to work with CEOs for Gender Equity as its inaugural executive director. Working with progressive CEOs my goal is to turn the dial in Western Australia. My job is to help them lead the transformation of their workforce by eliciting and sharing their stories of what works and doesn't work to drive and improve gender equity further.