In his own words

The male perspective on gender diversity

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David Gonski


Australia has a very small population compared with other countries. If we are to remain competitive, we must use our entire population to look for talent.

1. Why is the issue of gender equity of interest to you?

I have been involved in business for over thirty five years. When I first started in business, it was a very male dominated environment. I am the product of a strong willed mother, I am married to an equally strong willed woman who gave birth to an even stronger willed daughter.

I am well aware of not only the strengths but the enormous capacities of women and I think it's frankly ridiculous that we only seek to appoint people potentially from forty-nine percent of the population – mainly the male population. It has been something that I have been interested in, not just from a social justice perspective, but as a practical and very pragmatic person that wants the best person for a job. The best person for the job should always require you to look at the entire population.

2. What have you seen happening over the last few years in companies in terms of improving gender equity?

Thirty five years ago I was on the board of a major hospital in Australia and it was a novelty that our Chief Executive was a woman. What I have seen in the medical industry over the last thirty five years is how women have become very successful and dominate the administration of medicine. It is amazing to see how much has changed and how it has changed. It has happened because of an acceptance of women in the industry and the understanding of the advantages of opening up the field.

Unfortunately, other sectors have not been as successful in doing this. I have found that the finance industry have not been nearly as successful in advancing women.

The introduction of the ASX governance disclosure principles in relation to gender has had a big effect on business in the last two years. People love numbers. People love looking good. People realize the effect that it may have on them and their organization if the numbers don’t look good.

In general terms, there have been a lot of failings in securing diversity over the last thirty five years. There is now a general recognition that you can’t hold your head up high as a good manager if you do not offer opportunities to all of the population.

To me, the most important thing in any organization, if you want women to thrive and do well, is for the CEO to understand that it is their responsibility. I think that if the CEO doesn’t support gender equity, the chance of it happening is very small.

I think that there is also a need now to redefine what a successful career is for both men and women. Many women who I come into contact with think that if they want to take a bit of time off to have children, that this will affect their careers negatively. They think that it is an either/or scenario. Whereas, I think that we have got to start to move towards a better, more imaginative tracking of a successful career. I see many men in particular becoming CEOs in their late forties and being completely burnt out by the time they are sixty and moving off to play golf. I can’t see why women might not be able to become a CEO a bit later and still be very successful.

3. Why do you think that there is still a strongly held belief that to be successful you need to have this linear career path?

The rush of youth and the feeling that you don’t want your peers to get ahead of you are factors that make people usually go for linear career progression.

I think that this is an issue, not just for women, but for men too. I would be encouraging both men and women to take time off to do post graduate study or something similar. I really feel that big organizations need to have individual career maps for their people, which demonstrate that career paths don’t need to be linear in order to be successful.

4. Why do you think that there is such a resistance to change?

Firstly, I think that there are some men who fear that women will be better and more competitive than men, and therefore are resistant to change. I think that these men are in the minority, but they do exist.

Secondly, I think that there is potentially a resistance to change because it is easier not to knock things around and to keep to the old traditional ways of doing things. It is easier to go along with the norms of today than to challenge them.

But this does not explain why change has occurred well in some industries and not in others. My perception is that perhaps the medical profession does it well because the structure of the sector allows for the caring role that is still often left with women. There also exists a level of flexibility in the medical profession that doesn’t exist in all industries. Unlike in Medicine generally, there is not a lot of tolerance for professionals to job share or take up other flexibility options in senior management positions. We expect people to be available 24/7.

5. Do you think that caring responsibilities need to be de-gendered?

I think that de-gendering caring responsibilities is something we must do but I think that it is a big ask.

I think that it is encumbant on men to open up the opportunities for women in business. It is encumbant on women to say that they are not going to be wives and mothers all the time – it’s a job share scenario. Having said that, I remember when my wife and I were raising young children, it was assumed that she would juggle her work with looking after the children. I hope that I was helpful, but if I’m completely honest, it was always a greater favour if I was able to look after the children. If the babysitter didn’t turn up I assumed that she would solve it.

I don’t think that either men or women should be forced to stay at home if that is not what they want to do – both men and women should be given the opportunity to do something that they really love

6. What do you think is the risk to Australian organisations if they do not continue to focus on the issue of gender equity?

Australia is a very small country and the talent that we have is also very small in number compared to other larger countries around the world. If we are to remain competitive, we must use our entire population to look for talent.

In my opinion, there is a difference between men and women, just as there is a difference between an older person and a younger person, or somebody that is raised in Australia and overseas and we have to delight in that difference. These differences, in my opinion, make for better decision making and better results for organizations.

If we are going to clone one set of people and continuously make them the only decision makers, the risk we have is that the decisions that they make will be the wrong decision.

7. Do you think that men realise their privileged position in Australian business?

I recently attended a women’s forum where there were two male and 180 female attendees. Most men live their lives not realizing that we are in a privileged position until we sit in a room where we are faced with the reality of being in the minority. Most men realize on some level that they are in a different position to women and that this position can drive real and lasting change.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.

Brian Hartzer


Gender equity is not about women’s interests — it’s about the national interest.

1. What have you seen happening over the last few years in your own company in better understanding the business case for gender equity?

Westpac has a strong record of supporting gender equity. I should explain that at Westpac we’re a bank that believes we exist to support economic development. That’s our job - our primary objective - is to support Australia. We do this by:

  • Helping people,
  • Helping communities, and
  • Helping businesses to prosper and grow.

As Australia’s first company - and Australia’s first bank - we’ve spent nearly 200 years helping Australian families and Australian businesses to navigate the ups and downs. And we’re proud that a big part of this focus has been on supporting women, both as customers and as staff members.

More than two million of our primary account holders are women, as are 22,000 or some 60% of our staff.

These women are buying homes, running businesses, investing their earnings, and planning their retirement.

15 years ago we started the Ruby Connection– a team dedicated to providing our female customers with education, information and networking opportunities designed to help them reach their full potential.

As an employer, we set a target of having women in 40% of our leadership roles – and we achieved that target last September … two years ahead of schedule.

This year we set a new target of having women in 50% of our leadership positions by 2017 - the year we reach our 200th anniversary as a company.

Achieving those numbers won’t be easy, but – unlike a quota – this is a target we want to hit.

We have real commitment from our Board, from our CEO, and from our Group Executive team.

We’re expanding our development programs for women, and actively encouraging our best and brightest female employees to participate in our leadership programs.

We’re striving to make sure our workplace is built around the needs of everyone. For instance, over half our staff work flexibly in some way.

We were one of the first companies in Australia to provide paid maternity leave – and we pay superannuation to employees taking unpaid parental leave for 12 months.

In other words, at Westpac we see diversity as a competitive advantage.

More recently, we’re providing training to make our people aware of gender differences and the possibility of unconscious bias.

We’ve also begun looking for talented women outside the banking profession, encouraging them to consider ‘branching out’ into areas their own biases may have excluded them from.

And we’ve made it a principle that at least one woman should be on the shortlist for every senior position – not as an act of tokenism, but as a statement of serious intent.

I know this is last point is controversial for some people. But I believe it’s important, because whether they are chasing their first job, restarting a career, or seeking a leadership position – talented women deserve to be seriously considered rather than dismissed out of hand.

The challenge of getting more women into leadership roles has many sides to it, with more issues and solutions than I’ve covered today.

2. What role does unconscious bias or frames of reference play in shaping an organisations approach to gender equity?

I think it is one unconscious bias is an important issue impacting gender equity and I recently spoke to this issue on a CEDA panel. I told this story to help illustrate the issue “Recently a senior executive at an investment bank – let’s call him Tom – noticed that only about 20 per cent of the “short list” candidates he interviewed for first year analyst positions were women. And this was despite the fact that around 50 per cent of the people applying for these roles were female.

Tom asked why was there such a discrepancy between the proportion of female applicants and the short listed candidates? What was going wrong?

What Tom discovered was this: the screening of candidates was being carried out by junior staff members – mostly young men – and those young men were weeding out the female candidates. Now you could call this discrimination – a conscious bias against women. But what if it was more subtle?

What if these young men were simply trying to identify the candidates who were likely to be successful in the role? What if they were looking for people whose CVs and backgrounds looked like their own? And what if the people with these CVs and backgrounds all happen to be men? In other words - what if the issue is not conscious, but unconscious bias?

Of course, there’s more to the issue of advancing women in leadership. There are cases of deliberate discrimination. However my experience suggests that unconscious bias deserves much more attention than it has received to date.

In my experience, very few men in senior business roles are consciously biased against the advancement of women. On the contrary, many, if not most men want to do what they can to support women.

From what I have seen, they don’t make the right choice because:

  1. They have inadvertently contributed to work practices that make women feel excluded.
  2. They develop candidate pools in ways that overlook important sources of high potential women.
  3. They select candidates based on a model of what they think is needed to be successful, not realizing that their model is based solely on their experience of male approaches to the role.

In other words, they’re tripped up by unconscious bias. So the solution is not about how women need to change – organisations need to work harder to address their work practices and remove unconscious bias.

3. What do you think is the risk to Australian organisations if they don’t effectively address the inequities that exist for men and women in corporate Australia?

The talents of too many women are wasted.

From the standpoint of fairness, this is a problem. But this is not just a matter of fairness - it is also an economic imperative. There is a lot of discussion at the moment about the importance of driving economic growth in Australia, and this debate often focuses on the challenge of what we refer to as “productivity”. To me, productivity is really about three things:

  • It’s about being more innovative,
  • It’s about helping more people get into and stay in the workforce, and
  • Most of all it’s about helping people achieve their full potential.

What does that have to do with gender equity? Well, everything.

  • We know that innovation comes with diversity of thinking,
  • We know that diversity in executive teams and in the boardroom helps drive better financial results,
  • We know that the rise in female employment has boosted Australia’s economy by 22 per cent since 1974,
  • And we know that closing the gap that exists between male and female employment rates would boost GDP by up to 13 per cent.

That’s why it makes economic sense for Australia to not just get more women into the workforce, but to also help them achieve their full potential. Looking at it this way, gender equity is not about women’s interests – it’s about the national interest.

4. When discussing gender equity, men often look for the “silver bullet” – the one thing that they can do to bring around change quickly. What do you think needs to be done to make people realise that this is a long term cultural shift rather than a “tick and flick” exercise?

The challenge of getting more women into leadership roles has many sides to it. But what is clear, as shown by Westpac’s experience, is that genuine intent, combined with stretching targets and a clear focus on removing unconscious bias, can make a real difference.

All of us in business, Westpac included, have more to do. And we need to do more, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do for our country.


  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not Ernst & Young.

As Australia’s progress towards gender equity in the workplace slows, prominent male leaders from the public and private sectors speak candidly about why gender equity is a national imperative, why diversity initiatives alone aren’t working - and the changes Australia needs to embrace for everyone’s benefit.

Why is gender equity important?

Beyond the ethical argument, male leaders believe Australia simply cannot afford to leave half the population out of the hiring equation. In their experience, diversity at all levels lowers risk and improves organisational performance. In a diverse organisation: leadership groups make smarter, more informed decisions; customers are better understood; employees are less cynical and more engaged; and organisations gain competitive advantage.

Australia has a very small population compared with other countries. If we are to remain competitive, we must use our entire population to look for talent.
David Gonski, Chairman Coca-Cola Amatil, Investec (Australia), Ingeus

Brian Hartzer, Westpac’s Chief Executive, Australian Financial Services says gender equity is an economic imperative.

“To me, productivity is really about three things: being more innovative, helping more people get into and stay in the workforce and, most of all, it’s about helping people achieve their full potential. What does that have to do with gender equity? Well, everything. We know innovation comes with diversity of thinking. We know diversity in executive teams and in the boardroom helps drive better financial results. We know the rise in female employment has boosted Australia’s economy by 22% per cent since 1974. And we know closing the gap between male and female employment rates would boost GDP by up to 13%.”

“That’s why it makes economic sense for Australia.”

As Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre, Dr Simon Longstaff would love to plead the gender equity argument in terms of social justice. “We have a majority of women securing very good university degrees and going into business, yet they are significantly under-represented in executive suites and on boards. How can you deny people the opportunity to make the best of their skills?”

However, as a pragmatist, he too comes back to the economic argument: “How can you have so many talented people available to the country and not use them?”

David Gonski agrees - on both counts: “From both a social justice perspective and from a practical standpoint of wanting the best person for the job, I think it’s frankly ridiculous that we only appoint senior people from 49% of the population.”

I am all for businesses doing good deeds, but this isn’t in the ‘good deed’ category. This is in the ‘you’ve got to get this right’ category.
Ian Narev CEO, Commonwealth Bank of Australia

It’s a situation uniquely acute in Australia. Currently, we have both one of the world’s lowest rates of educated women participating in the workforce and one of the world’s highest rates of female education. In other words, we are getting the world’s worst return on the multi-billion dollar investment we make in female education every year.

Simon Longstaff believes the disadvantage this gives us as an economy is replicated at the organisational level, creating exposure to unnecessary risk: “Without diversity, you quickly descend into ‘group think’ and fail to take into account strategic threats and opportunities - because you just cannot see them.”

Employee engagement is also an issue: “If you alienate people who have different ways of seeing the world - and treat them unjustly - people will disengage from your organisation.

You don’t just lose their insight, but all the discretionary effort that comes with their loyalty. Instead, you generate corrosive cynicism that puts your harmonious workplace at risk.”

Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, says diversity is important for any company. “It allows you to tap into an unbelievable talent pool. If you don’t, you’re fishing in a very small pond.” He cites multiple benefits of having a diverse workforce at every level: “There’s a solid business case for diversity. Companies that embrace inclusion and diversity outperform the rest of the market. It makes you better at planning, making decisions, managing risk, driving innovation and implementing strategy. That’s why we’re passionate about diversity at Qantas. It’s better for our customers, employees and shareholders.”