Last week US president Donald Trump appointed two men to head up his ‘Women in the Workplace’ initiative. This reminded me of when our own former prime minister, Tony Abbott, appointed himself as the Minister for Women. The response to such appointments, particularly by women, is predictable and understandable: ‘How can men possibly represent women?’.
While I would prefer a woman to lead initiatives that relate to women, we all know that ‘gender equality’ is not just an issue for women. Most gender equality advocates, and many organisations, understand that gender equality will only ever be achieved by active engagement of both men and women. Many companies that are achieving their gender equality goals are, in fact, led by men.
We also know that gender balance is created in companies only if it is personally and forcefully lead by the CEO. Male or female, it’s critical that the CEO commits themselves to gender equality goals for the organisations they lead. They know that gender equality is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do. They lead by example, they speak out and stand up for gender equality. They make it known that gender equality matters to them, both professionally and personally.
So, in thinking about Trump’s ‘Women in the Workplace’ appointments, rather than ask the question, ‘How can men possibly represent women’, I asked, ‘What defines a good leader for gender equality?’, to help reframe my thinking.
This question lead me to an excellent article, ‘A CEO’s guide to gender equality’, published by McKinsey. While there are rarely simple solutions to complex problems, McKinsey identifies four ‘prescriptions’ that leaders can start with: Get committed; broaden your action; hold challenging conversations; and sweat the small stuff.
As an advocate for equality and inclusion who regularly and often publicly speaks out on gender equality and related issues, I really connected with the point about challenging conversations being the impetus for progress. It suggests starting with these five questions, which I urge all leaders and executive teams to ask themselves:
- Where are the women in our talent pipeline?
- What skills are we helping women build?
- Do we provide sponsors as well as role models?
- Are we rooting out unconscious bias?
- How much are our policies helping?
You can read the full article here, and if you are the HRD or Diversity Lead in your organisation, you might consider sharing it with your CEO to support them in their efforts to achieve gender balance in your organisation.