I had two starkly different conversations with male CEOs in the past week. One told me he was committed to the idea of female leadership in his male-dominated organisation and industry, but that he didn’t know how to go about it. “Help me understand all of this,” he pleaded. The other informed me that although he had been pulled up on a couple of occasions for making what sounded like sexist comments, he was really just misunderstood. He insists that his approach is, and has always been, gender neutral.
One of the men was a thirty-something Gen-Xer. The other a sixty-something Baby Boomer. If I asked you to match the man with the attitude, could you do it?
Thankfully the man who has admitted he is clueless about the steps toward a gender-diverse company is the younger of the two. I say thankfully because the first step towards change is to own the problem. And if we are to have any chance of a gender-equal future for the workplace then it’s this younger generation of leaders that is going to have to do something about it.
We have always known that the best path forward on this issue is for men to join us on the journey. It’s the reason that Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick’s male champions of change program is such a great idea. But as is always the case, the men who step forward or are chosen for these initiatives are not the ones who need convincing that a serious step change – in their thinking and in the pipeline to leadership roles – is required. Deloitte’s Giam Swiegers, one of Broderick’s change champions, started a revolution some time ago and that’s why the organisation is a shining beacon as a Select Employer for women. It’s the ones who are happy to sit back and watch things evolve that need to be jolted into gear.
The 30-something CEO has decided he wants to stand up and be counted. He has given one of the few senior women in his leadership team the support she requires from the very top to push forward her gender diversity plans. He is certainly making all the right noises. He wants to send her all over the world to attend women’s conferences so she can bring the latest thinking on the subject into the organisation.
I allow myself to feel hopeful when talking to this CEO. But the real test will be when she starts to get push back from men and women in the company who do not believe in or want to support her initiatives. What will he do and say then?
Where would you place your CEO along the spectrum of owning the need for change?