On the weekend I attended an intimate dinner party for eight at a friend’s home. The CEO of an ASX-listed company was also invited and he drew the short straw in being seated next to the woman who conceived Women’s Agenda.
I couldn’t help myself. I was keen to know his view on gender diversity at the leadership level. The organisation that he runs has two female directors out of six and there are three women in the nine-strong senior management team. The CEO let me know in no uncertain terms that he and his female chair were against quotas and targets as they “make women who are already at the top feel like they are there because of a target and not because they earned it”. I’m not convinced that is a good enough excuse for women who have made it onto boards and into CEO roles to not help other women follow in their footsteps. But I digress.
Instead, their approach is team-based. The CEO explained his theory is that if you focus on the requirements of the best functioning teams then you will inevitably find yourself with a diverse group of people. He regaled me with stories about the workshops that he and his team have been through to better understand the impact of team-based thinking and decisions. (I blame myself. I was at a dinner party with wine, and I did ask.)
He believes Australia has a problem with the issue of fairness and says this is actually holding back our diversity ideals. He explained that considering the best candidate for the job based on a desire for fairness will mostly result in the appointment of a man who has been around for some time, putting in the hours and years. This became a point of some debate as I have experienced many occasions where it was actually the unfair decision for a male to be promoted ahead of a woman. And lets not get started on how fairness relates to the gender pay gap.
I found it encouraging that this particular CEO avoids the automatic appointment of the longest-serving male in his quest for diversity. He encourages his team of leaders to instead consider what type of person would best fill the vacancy in order to enhance their overall team. No position is filled without considering the entire team mix.
I was thrilled to hear this as its exactly how I have assembled my senior management team currently and throughout my career. With each new appointment, cultural fit and diversity of thought and experience becomes increasingly important. I have been known to reject the perfect ‘on paper’ candidate if the fit is likely to be poor or if groupthink may be the result.
The problem with this team-based approach is that in order for this to work CEOs first need to believe in the basic principle that diverse teams perform better. If you don’t understand that then this isn’t going to work. Worse: it may be the permission that some CEOs are looking for to avoid committing to the need for gender equality in leadership positions in their organisation.
What’s your view? Could a team-based approach be the key to greater leadership diversity?