How to become a female champion of change | Women's Agenda

How to become a female champion of change

Steve Jobs once said ‘Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voices. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.’

When and where do you hear your inner voice? Do you hesitate to say it out loud or worry about what others might think? When did you last allow yourself to push through the noise and seek to be heard?

Your worry may not be justified. In my career I have witnessed all kinds of people at all levels of an organisation step up to become the most outstanding leaders. There is one thing they all had in common that made it possible for them to step up, no matter what their country or circumstance, and that was opportunity. An opportunity to take responsibility and use it to do something good.

So what about you? Are you leading change for gender equality? Are you looking for the opportunity to? Next time you see it, take it. And if an opportunity doesn’t arise soon, ask someone to give you that opportunity.

Female champions of change

We have heard much about the Male Champions of Change (MCCs) over the past four years. Some people are now asking ‘Where are the females?’ and ‘Why are we waiting for men to fix things for us?’ and ‘How long will this change take?’

First let’s acknowledge the progress that some of these 21 men have achieved within their own companies as reported in the recently published MCC Score Card. Telstra is the clear front runner, followed closely by CBA, then Rio Tinto, Woolworths and Ten; all had balanced or exceeded the gender target of 60/40% of males/females at multiple levels. Only 12 of the 21 companies reported in the scorecard and some of the founding members, like Origin Energy, IBM and Goldman Sachs, did not report.

With marginal results, it’s clear we need to apply more effort. We need to use the female leaders who are waiting in the wings to help and broaden the effort to include leaders from outside of big business. Change programs in a corporate environment rarely concentrate efforts on the top team only.

They drive the vision and business case for change through the whole organisation, tapping into influencers at all levels and engaging with everyone. Until we do that as a nation, we will not see a change in gender equality anytime soon.

One of the key questions is why the country’s most talented women were not included in the effort to create a group of change leaders back in 2010 or any time since? Why do we not have a group of female champions of change? What does this signal to onlookers? Does it say that only men have the power to do this task or that they won’t do it if women are involved? How is that different from the past? Why have we established another closed group that only invites males?

We need to demonstrate to all onlookers, including employees and youth entering the workforce, that women and men can work together. There are males and females in business and society who are championing gender equality but they are not getting the recognition, they are not featured in the media and most do not have the support of each other by way of a coordinated effort or public funding. Should we look to change that?

Gender equality is not just about giving women the vote or giving them equal pay. It is also about men being prepared to work alongside women as equals, on the same team, at the same level, giving them an equal voice and sharing the decision making power. As I look for examples of this they are hard to find.

How can you engage?

Achieving gender equality is also about women showing that they are ready and confident to take their place at the top and give it their best. I am not an advocate of single-sex groups of any kind so I am not suggesting a rival group to the MCCs. Instead I think we need to avoid the dogma upon which the group was established, and look for new ways to engage with people of both genders, at all levels, across business and society.

So who should our female champions of change be? Should it be female board members and CEOs of large companies and government organisations? Yes of course; we need the most senior females in business and society, who hold positions of power, to use it.

But the buck doesn’t stop there. The opportunity exists for us all. The opportunity for everyone to step up to lead some change in their own area, at their own level, in whatever organisations or communities they belong to, will always exist.

Look for the opportunity and when it next comes your way, take it.

A walk out or a stampede

A few weeks ago I made a suggestion that perhaps women should refuse to attend work until there was equal pay, or that women could refuse to sit down in meetings where gender imbalance is visible as a physical reminder of the lack of diversity of thought and opinion in the room. Later that week I was reminded of Iceland’s ‘Women’s Day Off’ that was initiated in 1975. Women walked off theirs jobs and out of their homes in protest; they wanted equality. It prompted a variety of changes which have contributed to its rise to the number 1 ranking in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report by 2009. It has occupied the top position every year since. But that rise took 34 years.

How long are we prepared to wait? The ranking of Australian women in the WEFGGG Report has slipped relative to other nations from 15th place in 2006 to 24th in 2014. Do we need to quicken the pace of change? Can we afford to wait another 34 years to turn the tide?

If an Icelandic-style walk out is too slow to create marginal change, how can we quicken the pace to get substantial change? Here in Australia we pride ourselves on being tenacious and for having a ‘can-do’ attitude. Let’s find our ‘can-do’ attitude and make it happen.

A one-off ‘stand’ by a small group seems insufficient. Perhaps we need to engage with the masses to create a momentum of change; to produce inertia that is unstoppable. To achieve faster sustainable change we need a louder voice, we need change to occur at all levels and for ripples to be felt in every Australian workplace and community. We need economic change and social change to occur at the same time. We need male and female leaders to stand together.

School leavers enter the workforce with beliefs and attitudes about gender, their roles and value; all are acquired from their parents, community leaders, teachers, coaches, families. The list goes on.  Economic systems and organisation behaviours that favour male employees influence our lives and serve to skew the outcomes. Many challenges start in the home…others are created in the workplace.

In light of Steve Jobs’ advice, let’s not live with the dogma that change is impossible and accept that it will take another 34 years. Let’s not be constrained by the thinking of others. Let’s ask women who want to be female champions of change to step up and take their place. Where ever they are in business or the community, at whatever level they operate. Let’s ask those who are already involved in leading change to collaborate; by uniting our effort we can achieve greater momentum. And let’s ask women leaders who hold positions of power and influence use it now, when we need it most.

Living with a ‘glass is half-full’ philosophy can be challenging when the glass has a leak. Let’s plug that leak, find our inner voice and sing in chorus very very loudly.

Next time – what does the opportunity to step up look like and how to ask for it?

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