Pay it forward: Senior leaders need to do more than ‘inspire’
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Judging by the strong turnout at Chief Executive Women's annual dinner last night, Australia's most high-profile businesspeople are keen on discussing workplace gender equality. Whether they're walking the talk is another matter.
More than 800 people attended the $350 a head function at the Westin in Sydney, including David Gonski, Glenn Stevens, Lachlan Murdoch, Kevin McCann, Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood and ANZ chairman John Morschel.
It's encouraging to see so many big male names at an event promoting gender equality, especially given the amount of work that needs to be done. Data from Company Directors this week shows there are still 55 companies in the ASX 200 with no women on their boards. Women have accounted for only 24% of ASX 200 board appointments to date in 2012, that's down from 27% in 2010.
So how does the 240-member CEW aim to help those not yet at a level high enough to be invited to join the networking group?
As Thérèse Rein said last night, her personal career success has had a lot to do with those people who provided her with the opportunities she needed to make it happen.
Importantly, she told the room to keep paying it forward.
CEW's new CEO Julie White told Women's Agenda this morning that the 19 scholarships announced last night, funded partially by the dinner, will go some way in helping to do that.
While CEW is not looking to expand its membership base dramatically, (White says their numbers need to reflect what they're able to provide to their members), its members and supporting organisations aim to further develop the pipeline of women available for leadership roles.
Practical measures are required. Women can't always rely on those at the top to drop down a ladder for the rest of us to climb up. If we want the leadership and board positions, we personally need to ensure we have the skills required for such positions in the first place.
What we need is for those at the top to agitate for government policies, workplace cultures and appointment processes that better meet the needs of women. We need them to pay it forward.
One of the key takeaways from last night's event was that CEW has appointed a CEO in a part-time role, and that a couple of the scholarships to be awarded over the coming year will go to leaders working part-time. That there's a cultural shift in itself, a small acknowledgement that even the most ambitious women may still require flexibility.
But a much bigger cultural shift is needed, one that sees the country's most celebrated business men and women supporting a flexible working environment by working in such arrangements themselves, making flexibility the norm rather than an option for mothers with young children. We need leaders to be advocates of affordable childcare, supporters of a more diverse and inclusive workplace, and change agents for better board and executive appointment processes that do not discriminate against women.
Change comes from the top. We have all the inspiration we need. Time to pay it forward.