What should organisations do differently?

In his own words - Women in Leadership

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Organisations need to address the cultural issues that are stopping targets and flexible work practices from having their intended effect. This will require all leaders - particularly men - to step up and support embedding gender equity into organizational DNA, making flexibility the norm and thinking differently about career paths.

Men have to get involved and take action

“Men need to embrace change and stop being threatened by it"
Brian Schwartz, IAG Chairman

Our interviewees universally agree that the issue of gender equity is a conversation that needs to be taking place between men - and that men often have to lead the change.

“These issues need to be led by the CEO of an organisation, and supported by their leadership team. And it is men who are still predominantly running large organisations in this country. They are the ones who are making the decisions about their successors and their executive teams,” explains Martin Parkinson.

David Gonski believes it is “incumbent on men to open up the opportunities for women in business. If you want women to thrive and do well, the most important thing in any organisation is for the CEO to understand that it is their responsibility. I think if the CEO doesn’t support gender equity, the chance of it happening is very small.”

Ian Narev says men need to sell gender equity to the organization in business terms: “You have to get to the heart of what drives value in business. Men need to articulate the business imperative in such a way for it not to be seen as a good deed, but rather just seen as how the business is run.”

If men don’t talk to other men about this, it will forever remain a woman’s issue.
Dr Martin Parkinson, Secretary to the Department of Treasury

What can leaders do differently?

  • Articulate the business case for gender equity
  • Constantly communicate the value of gender diversity among the leadership teams and more broadly across the organisation
  • Stop promoting clones - recognise the value of having people who think differently on the leadership team and across the organisation
  • Give equity targets real consequences - consequences that will challenge the teams to promote and role model positive behaviours
  • Welcome constructive criticism and new ideas

Build gender equity into the culture

Our interviewees agree that, for gender equity to be sustainable, it must be part of an organisation’s culture - embedded in day-today operations.

General Hurley says the new generation of women coming into the ADF expect nothing less: “If you look at women in the ADF, we have three generations: first, the more experienced group of very senior women who were the first women to enter the ADF; second, the next generation of women who joined in the early ‘90s, for whom the rules did change, but who still had to fight hard for equality; finally, the newest group of women now who just demand equality be part of business as usual. If they do not receive the opportunity to progress to the highest ranks, they will walk.”

However, he warns that achieving the cultural change required to support that expectation will take radical and decisive action: “If you wait for this change to occur by gravity or by nature, it is not going to change quickly enough - you need active intervention for the culture to change.”

What can organisations do differently?

  • Make gender equity a company value and expect people to live that value every day
  • Talk about gender equity every day to the whole organisation, not just the leadership teams
  • Embed it in processes for attracting, retaining, developing and progressing the workforce
  • Provide unconscious bias training for every Manager in the organisation to start the process of change

Gender equity is not about women’s interests - it’s about the national interest.
Brian Hartzer Chief Executive, Australian Financial Services, Westpac

Make flexibility work

Our interviewees agreed that, to date, flexibility has been great in theory and often ineffective in practice. “If a high potential woman comes to me and asks to work three days a week so she can look after her children the other two days - this is a no-brainer - at least philosophically. However, in a practical sense, we are still evolving in our acceptance of flexibility,” says Ian Narev.

This is a polite way of saying that people in flexible roles are largely sidelined in big organisations. Flexibility is often viewed as a career killer. In many organisations, employees who take advantage of flexible work options are routinely given lower levels of responsibility, left out of communications, excluded from invitations and passed over for promotions.

David Thodey says it’s time Australia moved into the 21st century: “Every job can be done flexibly. We have the enabling technology, now we need the enabling culture. It’s not about how many hours you do at your desk, or how you do the job, it’s about outcomes. You need a performance-based culture where flexibility is just built-in. It shouldn’t be ‘well, yes you can work flexibly, but you need to get your manager’s approval’. We should just expect people to work flexibly and measure their performance.”

IAG Chairman, Brian Schwartz, believes unless organisations can really be flexible in this way, they will continue to lose great people. “That’s a big risk when women return to work and are told ‘you can only deal with the little projects, because major clients require you 24/7.” He points out that, in a job share each person does three days. “So the client actually gets someone for six days’ a week.”

What can organisations do differently?

  • Make flexibility the norm for both genders - expected and acceptable
  • Introduce or expand flexible work options in all roles
  • Stop punishing people who take time off for family emergencies or personal requirements
  • Assess whether people in flexible roles are being sidelined - and change the system to support them in progressing their careers
  • Introduce methods to assess and redesign roles to support flexible work options - such as additional assistance with administrative tasks.

De-gender the conversation

After years of discussing flexible work options, many of our interviewees have come to the realisation they’ve been having the wrong conversations.

General Hurley explains: “At the ADF, we probably started this on the wrong foot. We talked about it very much in terms of gender instead of broader terms. The policies we introduced are beneficial to women, but they are also beneficial to men. Flexibility and similar policies are just as important to men and apply equally to men who want to take time off to be at home or do other things. You cannot exclude men from the discussion. Our approached implied that what we were doing only involved women.”

“This is absolutely a broader discussion than just women and children,” says Ian Narev. “I’ve had many animated discussions with both women and men who have chosen not to have children who want to make room for other things in their lives. They argue this debate is too much about children. My focus is on creating an environment where personal choice is paramount and the only thing that is being judged is talent. If another individual wants the same work arrangements because they love playing the violin and want to do this two days a week, why should that be seen as any less worthy of flexibility?”

But, he says it’s complicating factor in performance reviews: “How do you compare the person working flexibly with their peers who have made the choice to work full time and expect to be rewarded for their dedication?”

What can organisations do differently?

  • Fund parental leave centrally, rather than by division or service line, so business functions aren’t penalised for having a high female representation
  • Stop talking and thinking about parental leave as an entitlement. It’s just another benefit like long-service leave or training - part of the mainstream cost of keeping and developing talent.
  • Encourage paternity leave
  • Support all employees in pursuing their passions outside of the work environment - recognise the value of a well-rounded employee
  • Encourage everyone to implement a form of flexibility in their work patterns - and talk about it in the workplace as business as usual

We will certainly have a woman in contention to be Chief of the Navy a decade earlier than the other two services - and this will be a monumental day when it occurs.
General David Hurley, Chief of the Australian Defence Force

Change our thinking about linear career paths

As a society, we need to rethink what it means to have a successful career.

“We need to redefine what a successful career is for both men and women,” says David Gonski. “Many women think that if they want to take a bit of time off to have children, this will affect their careers negatively. They think it’s an either/or scenario. Whereas, I think we’ve got to move towards a better, more imaginative tracking of a successful career.”

He says our idea that careers must be linear is an issue, not just for women, but for men too. “I really feel that big organisations need to have individual career maps for their people, which demonstrate that career paths can be successful without being linear. I would be encouraging both men and women to take time off to do post graduate study or something similar.”

David Thodey agrees: “Linear careers don’t always equip people well for complex leadership roles. It would be great if people were encouraged to do more external study, or climb mountains, or work in a completely different industry or sector, like government.”

However, he also thinks changing the corporate mindset on this will be a hard sell. “Linear progression is out-dated, but it will be hard to change. People are afraid that if they’re out of sight, they’ll be out of mind. That’s why they don’t go and do what they really want to.”

“Today, linear careers are a safer bet, but I wish it wasn’t the case. I’d like to think we can change that.”

What can organisations do differently?

  • Keep in touch with those on leave - make sure managers talks to them regularly
  • Present new opportunities when they arise to as wide a candidate pool as possible - particularly to people who are on leave
  • Plan and support non-linear career paths through thoughtful planning and proactive career development discussions
  • Encourage people to pursue diverse roles and opportunities, both in the organisation and as secondment opportunities elsewhere
  • Support sabbaticals for study or following personal goals
  • Include diversity of experience in hiring and promotional criteria
  • Making on-boarding and off-boarding easier

Get women into the pipeline

Ian Narev puts it in a nutshell: “There are so many outstanding women around, but often they can be a bit harder to find just because, at the levels you are recruiting, they are underrepresented.”

While acknowledging this to be the case, our interviewees believe it can be remedied - if organisations are prepared to find out why women aren’t making it into the leadership pipeline and actively address the issue.

Brian Schwartz believes if women aren’t coming up fast enough via the traditional careers paths, you have to try something different. “Maybe expand the size of your board. Create a new position on the board for a less experienced director, who can be helped into the role. It doesn’t detract from the overall strength of your board - and it keeps the skill set appropriate - but it does build a pipeline. When you try innovations like this you recognize the positive sides that gender balance brings into organisations.”

What can organisations do differently?

  • Set targets for getting women onto every succession bench of an organisation
  • Ensure leaders are actively sponsoring women onto succession benches and advocating for them in progression discussions
  • Expand the parameters of what leaders look and act like to ensure that less obvious talent is nurtured and developed.
  • Conduct reviews with women to gather information about the female experience straight from the source - don’t make assumptions about what is happening in the organisation
  • Adopt new models for supporting female leadership talent, such as mentoring programs and experiential learning opportunities
  • Stop looking at female development requirements as trying to “fix the women” to fit into a traditional leadership framework
  • Ask senior women what’s derailing female careers