The Australian delegation‟s main focus was women on boards. I was honoured to be asked to present on the Australian approach.
We valued the opportunity to meet with delegates and learn about the approaches being taken by other countries.
In Paris, before the Forum, an International and French invited business audience attended a special lunch hosted by PwC to hear about the Australian situation. Christine, Jan, Barbara and I discussed the agenda for change in Australia including the history and current momentum with the ASX voluntary targets initiative.
Also, prior to the Forum we visited the National Assembly of France where we met with their Delegation for Women‟s Rights and Equal Opportunities Between Men and Women, a 36-member body on which each of the political parties has representation in proportion to their parliamentary numbers. Their job is to monitor legislation covering women‟s participation in society and the economy.
This multi-party body is promoting the quotas legislation that is currently being implemented in France because they believe that legislation is the only thing that works. It was important for us to understand the context and cultural background of what is happening in Europe.
We heard a similar message from the European Union. The strong message was that unless there is rapid progress there was likely to be EU legislation for quotas.
The strong view expressed at the forum was that increasing the numbers of women on boards and in management had stalled, the pipeline was not working, and that something had to happen to kickstart the process. In most countries it was recognised that quotas by themselves are not sufficient because they just address the Board issue and do not necessarily imbed positive change but it was thought it would kick start the change.
Delegates were very interested in the Australian model - “our kickstart” – being self-determined and transparent targets for management and boards. They understood that our model includes the advantage of also focusing on management. I spoke to the Forum about “The Ecology of Change” with a shift in focus from “why” to include a suite of complementary initiatives that are about the “how”: director and C- suite mentoring, male champions of change, highlighting strategies that work, CEO tool kits and sponsorship to reinforce and backup the voluntary compliance model.
Of specific interest was the change in dialogue amongst boards and CEOs since the announcement of our initiatives and the increasing number of female board and senior management appointments which have already taken place.
Many at the Forum appreciated the importance of business driving the change, and applauded the Australian model for this feature. The Americans were particularly interested in the Australian approach as they have no appetite at present for quotas on this issue. Since the Forum, I have received a number of invitations to speak at events in the United States.
One of the most interesting sessions was one where more than 20 high-level CEOs met behind closed doors to thrash out a set of practical steps to advancing women‟s empowerment. They agreed, as reported to a plenary by five of their number – one woman and four men – to six CEO Commitments:
1) As CEO, be visibly committed and embed women‟s advancement into business strategy: Build women‟s advancement into the strategy of the company operations, driven by the CEO and leadership team. Change our workplace culture and mindset and empower both men and women to drive women‟s
2) Require diverse candidates as a priority Recruit, develop, and retain diverse candidates as a priority: When considering candidates for leadership positions, at least one woman will be on every candidate
3) Hold ourselves accountable for progress:Define stretch goals around increasing women in our boards, executive committees, or running major parts of our businesses. We will each measure progress and
present a thoughtful game plan at Women‟s Forum in 2011.
4) Build the CEO Champion network: Work together to increase the dialogue among our peers - and create peer pressure - to build our network of CEO Champions, including a “plus one” strategy for next
year‟s Women‟s Forum (each CEO to bring one or more of their peers).
Create a catalogue of best practices and engage in cross-company mentoring of talented women.
Develop ways to foster balance between personal and professional lives for men and women in our
workforces (focusing on all generations in the workforce). They have agreed to report back to the 2011 Forum on progress of these commitments.