While more women are ﬁnding themselves in senior roles, a simple management model is helping fast-track their rise. By Anna Hitchings
Most people would agree there is a signiﬁcant gender discrepancy in senior management roles.
While equal opportunities for women in the workplace are steadily on the rise, men predominantly hold the highest-ranking roles in businesses and corporations, so much so that the term “chief executive ofﬁcer” has come to be synonymous with “male” in many minds.
To combat this phenomenon, leading social-change groups Chief Executive Women (CEW) and Male Champions of Change (MCC) have partnered to launch the Leadership Shadow, a simple management model intended to increase gender balance in Australian businesses, enabling more women into senior roles.
The innovative model has guidelines, suggestions and practical solutions for leaders on how to approach the gender discrepancy, which are applicable to any business or company.
Based on the notion that every leader casts a “shadow” by how he or she manages and behaves in the workplace, the Leadership Shadow is centred on four key elements: what we say, how we act, what we prioritise, and how we measure.
These components are considered fundamental to running a business and how gender equality is determined and promoted. One driver of the Leadership Shadow is Kathryn Fagg, board member of the Reserve Bank of Australia and chair of CEW’s Thought Leadership Committee.
Fagg says the model’s uniqueness is its capacity to enable a leader to think about what they can do to make a difference and have more influence and impact on their team, especially regarding gender diversity.
“What’s important is for organisations to encourage women to recognise their capabilities and know it’s less likely women will put up their hands, and to be more proactive in identifying the women to be considered for bigger roles and development,” Fagg says.
“It’s really important that organisations do a good job of talent management and succession planning, in making sure they have high-quality women on those lists being given opportunities to develop so they’re prepared to take on bigger roles.”
As a senior manager, Fagg says one major obstacle to increasing gender balance is the prevailing perception that senior positions are determined for men.
“We know the number one thing that determines whether a woman will be an advocate of an organisation is her perception of the number of women in senior leadership roles in her organisation,” Fagg says. “The biggest challenge we’ve got is to just get more women into management roles because we know it’s very important to have women in these positions.”
Fagg began her career in chemical engineering and then moved to management consulting and retail banking. She then joined BHP Steel (now BlueScope) to run market and logistics solutions before taking on responsibility for Asia. Subsequently, she worked for Linfox and joined the RBA board in May 2013.
“An obvious risk was that I was willing to move in-between sectors, and I have to tell you, every time I had to take a deep breath,” Fagg says.
She became a member of CEW to help other women achieve their professional goals. Comprising 300 of Australia’s most senior women leaders, CEW seeks to promote more women into senior roles in the Australian business sector.
Unexpectedly, Goldman Sachs chief executive and MCC member Simon Rothery approached the group. Rothery developed the model and first began implementing it at Goldman Sachs. “It’s a tool they use internally at Goldman Sachs, but he reached out to CEW, and asked, ‘Given all the work you’ve been doing getting women into leadership roles, can you work with us to say what are the key elements in leadership roles?’”
MCC is a collection of some of Australia’s most influential male chief executives and chairpersons. Instigated by Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, the group works to elevate the issue of women as leaders on the national business agenda through the power of individual and collective influence.
Broderick invited Deloitte Australia chief executive Giam Swiegers to join MCC and says Swiegers was so intrigued, he accepted immediately. “We spend a lot of time sharing ideas and there’s a lot of discussion about mentoring, the approaches to mentoring, approaches to filling senior roles and ways to make sure there are female candidates,” Swiegers says.
“The Leadership Shadow helps a leader to understand the impact he or she has on an organisation. Its basis is that leaders cast big shadows and what this model is looking at is how the leader is perceived in relation to gender issues.”
Female chief executives run fewer than 4 per cent of Australian companies, according to the latest Bureau of Statistics study, while woman chair only 3 per cent of corporate boards. Members of CEW and MCC hope the Shadow can alter these statistics by being taken on and implemented by more leaders around Australia and elsewhere.
“Every statistic available proves the Australian business environment is very male-dominated,” Swiegers says. “If I had seen the Shadow a long time ago, we at Deloitte would have been much further advanced today than we are. “If you’re not committed, I’m not sure the Shadow is going to change your behaviour. For those who are committed, the Shadow is an absolute gift.”
This article appeared in the July 2014 edition of Management Today, AIM’s national monthly magazine.