As I was writing this article, the sad news arrived about the death of Australian singer-songwriter Helen Reddy. She was an icon and an inspiration to many people, myself included. Her 1971 worldwide hit I am Woman captured the spirit of the times and has remained an uplifting anthem for women ever since. “I am woman, hear me roar”.
This year, corporate Australia has heard the unmistakeable roar of investors and shareholders. In numbers too big to ignore, they said “enough of the bad behaviour and toxic workplace cultures”.
I believe we are seeing a seismic shift of attitudes in corporate Australia. The recent issues we witnessed at AMP, QBE and Rio Tinto have shown that investors and shareholders will no longer tolerate poor behaviour. Boards and senior executives have been put on notice. These business leaders are now expected to be just as accountable for the health, safety and well-being of their employees as they are for their company’s financial results. In 2020, our social mores and community expectations demand nothing less.
However, we have to ensure that the changes we have experienced are both real and lasting. Our data shows that progress towards gender equality in our workplaces does not happen on its own. Change happens when organisations set targets, measure their progress, make people accountable for the outcomes and report the results to their boards and senior executive teams.
This is why the 40:40 Vision is so important and why I am both proud and delighted to be on its Steering Committee. The 40:40 Vision aims to achieve gender balance in our ASX 200 executive leadership teams by 2030. It asks companies to publicly pledge their commitment to gender balance at top leadership levels, set targets for achieving it and report annually on their progress. Action, transparency and accountability will drive change.
The business case for gender equality is clear and compelling. The ground-breaking research we released earlier this year with the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre provided important new evidence of the crucial need for improving gender diversity in company leadership. By revealing a strong causal relationship between increasing the number of women in senior leadership and subsequent improvements in company performance, productivity and profitability, it proved beyond doubt that gender equality is a commercial imperative.
If companies are not making gender equality the top priority in their business, then they are neglecting their fiduciary duty to their shareholders and owners.
Our data shows that workplace gender equality in Australia has made the most rapid progress in those areas where employers have a direct influence on the outcome. It demonstrates that the private sector has significant power to effect change and influence efforts towards achieving gender equality.
The 40:40 Vision builds on this momentum for change in our workplaces. By making companies truly accountable for their commitment to and action for gender equality, it offers a tremendous opportunity to create real and lasting change in corporate Australia. I implore all ASX 200-listed companies and investors to take the 40:40 Vision pledge today. Not only is it good for your business, it is integral to our economic future.