Boy band needs a few big hits
In many ways it should come as little surprise that decades of lobbying by women to highlight and redress the gender imbalance in management and boards has achieved very little. How would it? The power to do something rests in the hands of men who traditionally have had no imperative to change the status quo.
There are 22 blokes who have signed up to the group called Male Champions of Change. It is only a few years old but some members are worth mentioning because between them they would employ a large percentage of Australian women (and men).
ANZ's Mike Smith, Commonwealth Bank's Ian Narev, army chief Lieutenant-General David Morrison, Telstra's David Thodey, Woolworths' Grant O'Brien, Qantas boss Alan Joyce, Screen Australia chairman Glen Boreham and Goldman Sachs Australian chief Simon Rothery are a sample of the champions. The Male Champions of Change played at the Westin Hotel in Sydney on Wednesday to launch their first album, Accelerating the Advancement of Women in Leadership. It's not catchy but clear enough.
It is also a move whose time has come. It is becoming less politically palatable (unless you are actually in politics) to treat gender as a fringe issue.
This group appears to understand the moral and commercial imperative of using the entire workforce rather than just half of it.
As a nation we invest in education for men and women and graduates are fairly equally represented in most disciplines. Most major companies have a 50/50 graduate intake but that is where the balance ends. Most of the graduates who make it to senior management positions will be men.
Productive women are leaking from the system. And the old excuse that women choose to stay at home and look after the kids doesn't wash.
The Champions of Change have worked on a "how to" manual for improving gender equality in the workplace but they are not suggesting they have all the answers.
I spoke to Thodey, Narev, O'Brien and Boreham as a panel of representatives of the group and asked them to rate their gender diversity success on a scale of one to 10. O'Brien was the first up and scored himself a six with an aspirational target of eight, but thinks the word "progress" should be in the marker's margin. Thodey rates himself a four or five and would like to get to six or seven.
If Thodey's trademark modesty is imposed on the score he would probably rate a bit higher. Narev thinks that if Thodey is a five then the CBA is only a four.
Bear in mind these men are the trailblazers in gender equality so one can only imagine how the laggards would score. Actually they all rated well in terms of percentage of female direct reports - particularly with improvements since they had taken the gender challenge.
One issue that focuses the mind on a task is remuneration - but there are no hard targets any of the panel needed to meet which were directly aligned to their bonus.
All four executives say there is a good chance their successors will be women - but then it wouldn't be politic to say it is unlikely. All have numerous direct reports that are women and Thodey's second in command at Telstra is the highly regarded Kate McKenzie.
Having this gender equality issue filter down through the upper ranks into middle management is probably one of the toughest calls.
The report suggests to "end the leadership lottery for women". It reflects the fact that in the ranks of middle management, finding a progressive manager that promotes equality is a bit of a crap shoot.
The answer is to make all management accountable and find a unified way to report on gender outcomes so organisations can be properly measured against each other.
The Plus One plan is another practical step that the report highlights. It's an idea stolen from Citi (whose Australian boss Stephen Roberts is also a champion band member) whereby management on any rung of the ladder commit to add at least one woman to their team as roles arise.