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How to improve gender diversity in the workplace: Six lessons from Chief Executive Women and Male Champions of Change

Yolanda Redrup /

Top-tier male and female business leaders are pushing for organisations to do more to support gender diversity in the workplace, urging leaders to set an example from the top down.

Speaking at a breakfast in Melbourne this morning held by Deloitte, members of the leadership organisations said business executives needed to examine their own “leadership shadow” to recognise how women feel and are being treated in the workplace.

Business executives were told to examine what they say, how they act, what they prioritise and how they measure their diversity development.

The renewed push to further gender diversity comes as the Coalition said last month it’s considering relaxing reporting requirements around gender equality in the workplace for SMEs, as part of the Abbott government’s push to cut red tape.

Under the new model being considered by the Coalition, companies with less than 1000 staff would no longer need to provide annual reports on gender balance.

But despite this, Chief Executive Women and Male Champions of Change members believe more needs to be done to support women in the workplace reaching the upper echelons of leadership.

Speaking at the breakfast, Goldman Sachs Australia and New Zealand chief executive Simon Rothery, non-executive director Kathryn Fagg, Army chief Lieutenant-General David Morrison AO, Kathleen Bailey-Lord, Allianz Australia chief general manager of workers compensation Helen Silver and Deloitte Australia chief executive Giam Swiegers shared their tips to increasing gender diversity in the workplace.

1. Be transparent

Bailey-Lord says establishing open lines of communication and encouraging women in leadership to share their stories is crucial to boosting the numbers of women in leadership.

“Be transparent about everything – how you got to where you are and tell them the stories which open up the system for everybody to be able to step forward and create a more inclusive culture,” she says.

2. Make diversity a priority

Rothery says in his experience if diversity isn’t a business priority, nothing will be achieved.

“It has to be a business priority. It needs to be taken as seriously as meeting budget, health and safety and expenses,” he says.

“As leaders we need to be seen to be making it a priority and leading by example. We also need to make changes ourselves, so on our management and operating committees consider what the percentage of women is.”

Rothery says ultimately the business needs a strong voice which communicates diversity as a priority.

“People need to know it’s a priority, it’s what you expect, and that you’re doing it as well,” he says.

3. Review promoting practices

Morrison says a problem which transcends the public and the private sector is men being promoted based on potential, while women are considered based on proven performance.

“Every time I sit down to look at who is going to be promoted or to fill a particular appointment, I have an advisory committee which helps me do that,” he says.

“I use that statement at the start of the discussion to have people’s minds focused on the fact that this is the way at the moment in contemporary Australia.”

4. Lead from the top

Fagg says organisations need to consider the composition of their “top team”.

“We know this is the key driver as to whether women will advocate their organisation to other women as a place to work,” she says.

“In fact, if the women in the organisation believe there is a critical mass of women in the leadership team, they’re five times more likely to advocate for the organisation. In the war for talent that is a very compelling message.”

5. Look for women with potential

Silver says people need to seek out and sponsor women to help them climb the leadership hierarchy.

“Women subconsciously just don’t promote themselves for a range of reasons. So you need to focus on who those talented women are and make sure they don’t leak out of the pipeline, that they’re there and they’re coming through [the business],” she says.

6. Communicate with the women in the business

Swiegers says businesses need to be having constant conversations with their staff to ensure they’re aware of any problems in the business.

“The more you listen and debate, the more you learn what the real problems are,” Swiegers says.

“It is also so essential to have programs which allow you to see real talent right throughout the organisations and to protect it.”

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