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Champions of Change: Elevating women’s representation

3 min read

“As a society,” Commissioner Broderick begins, “we embrace the fact that men and women are equals. Yet women are under-represented in all sectors at the decision-making level.”

She says that the not-for-profit sector is a good example.

“Women make up the majority of employees, volunteers and are also the majority of people who access not-for-profit (NFP) services,” she says. Figures from the Productivity Commission’s report on The Contribution of the Not-For-Profit Sector suggest that while 87 per cent of NFP employees are female, there is still a less then equal representation of women at decision-making levels.

When Commissioner Broderick came into the position two-and-a-half years ago, she explains, she had the “strong view” that the issue of women’s representation was about women driving change.

Since then, she says she has come to the “depressing” realisation that women alone are not going to change this story by themselves. “The reality is that men make the rules around work.”

Questioning what levers there are to drive change, she decided that an important part of changing this picture is strong male leadership.

Champions of change

Commissioner Broderick set out to find ten of Australia’s most influential men who could form into a group that she calls the ‘Male Champions of Change’.

She looked to men who were both personally committed to the issues of women’s leadership and gender equality, and who would also speak out publically on the issue.

The men are advocating for systemic change across all levels of society. Their first public statement in April issued the following message: “What we’re doing in Australia is just not good enough and we all need to be working to change this picture.”

Within their own organisations, the men are working to create change through establishing programs and targets for gender equality. Publicly, they are advocating for the ASX Corporate Governance Council reforms.

The reforms, which come into effect 1 January 2011, require that organisations establish measurable objectives relating to increasing gender equality at decision – making levels. Companies will be required to provide an annual report against those targets.

The reforms are compulsory for corporations listed on the stock exchange, however the ‘Champions of Change’ are advocating for wider support of the reforms across all levels of society.

What do women think?

The adoption of men to champion women’s issues is a tactic that is sure to create some level of interest, as well as controversy among women. However, Commissioner Broderick says that women have generally reacted positively to the formation of the group.

“Most women, I think, recognise that we can’t do it by ourselves.

“It’s the reality, and as much as I’d like it to be a different way I want to work with what’s real, and that’s why I’ve moved ahead with this strategy.”

Changes in gender representation

Commissioner Broderick says that there is “no question” about change happening in the short term, particularly when the ASX reforms take effect.

Even over the last six months there have been positive changes. The ASX figures show that there were eleven women appointed to boards in 2009, and in the first three months of this year there have been 14 appointed.

However, change needs to be for the long term. “What we’re shooting for is approaching 40 per cent of women at board and at senior level, in five years time,” she says.

The broader influence

Commissioner Broderick says that the importance of gender equality in senior business decision-making should not be undervalued and that change in the corporate sector will have a greater influence across all levels of society.

Nonetheless, she emphasises the need for sustained change, above and beyond the reforms at the corporate level.

“As a community, a business, or a government, if gender representation can change at a corporate level it will drive a much increased focus on this issue, which will have a positive impact more generally.

“By acting together, we hope to embed a culture of diversity and change the face of the business environment.”

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