The leadership hot-seat affords a level of influence and privilege to make long lasting change in workplaces; use it or lose it.

CEOs and leaders cast shadows that influence their workplaces and their people. The shadow cast may be weak, poor or powerful, yet it is always there. It is a reflection of everything that leaders do, say, prioritise and measure.

At CEOs for Gender Equity we recognise the role of CEOs leading gender equity within their workplaces. According to Chief Executive Women if we want our leadership to make a difference, we must understand our own impact—the shadow we cast.

Ian Silk CEO of AustralianSuper kindly hosted our first CEO Roundtable for 2019 joined by CEOs and business leaders in Western Australia.

In 2017, AustralianSuper wrote to 17 ASX200 companies notifying them of our policy of voting against director re-election with single gender boards, unless the company could demonstrate its commitment to gender diversity in the future.
If there is to be real change in relation to gender equity then it needs to be supported and monitored by the leaders in the business community.

Guests recognised that they have an extraordinarily unique responsibility to bring about change in West Australian workplaces by sharing the strength of their conviction – when it comes to achieving a gender balanced workplace.

That is, CEOs and leaders that lead with intent and purpose on gender equity have the opportunity to accelerate gender equity outcomes for women and for men.

Derailers

It would not be a typical gender equity roundtable if we did not discuss some of the factors inhibiting progress. Guests expressed varying degress of control and influence – from some to significant – over these extraneous factors.

  • Pipeline

Male-dominated workplaces can be conspicuous by the dearth of women in senior leadership roles and at entry level. It is easy to accept that the little ‘pipeline’ of female talent contributes to this issue.

In contrast the burgeoning ‘pipeline’ of female talent in law and accounting where 60% of graduates have been female over the last 20 years has not closed the leadership gap nor the pay gap in accounting and law firms in Western Australia.

  • Acquisitions

In pursuing mergers and acquisitions, guests shared a common view that future takeovers would heavily skew the workplace toward men, in spite of progress in achieving gender balanced workplaces. A serious concern because gains in profitability, market share and customer satisfaction can be attributed to a gender balanced workforce that is, with women at all levels of the business including at decision-making and leadership levels.

I could not but help wonder will premiums be paid for organisations that when acquired, not only boost the balance sheet but boost their gender equity credentials, reforming workplace culture as part of the transaction?
  • Partners and suppliers

Recruiters, executive search firms, the higher education sector have a significant role in supplying talent ‘pipelines’. From the perspective of procurer, it was recognised that leaders can exercise considerable influence over pipeline by engaging their partners in recruitment, education and training to ensure that the service being provided meets their gender equity needs and ambitions. Interestingly, it was shared that when recruiters and executive search firms were challenged to deliver 50/50 long and short lists of candidates – they delivered, eventually, albeit after two or three goes.

Use it or lose it.

It was well accepted by the guests attending the CEO Roundtable that their role was one of influence and privilege and that whilst they were in the leadership hot-seat, that they could effectively use the opportunity to make real and lasting cultural change.

The areas over which they could most exercise influence was their own shadow.

CEO Commitments

In closing the CEO Roundtable, guests closed with personal commitments to gender equity, of which there were three recurring commitments to:

  • Use their influence with suppliers and partners to attract more women at all levels of their workplace
  • Sponsor women into senior roles, that is, beyond mentoring
  • Take the ‘panel pledge’ and join discussion panels that were represented by men and women

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.