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Getting serious - Our experiences in elevating the representation of women in leadership - A letter from business leaders (2011)

Business woman leader photo - cover of Our experiences in elevating the representation of women in leadership publication

experiences in elevating the representation of women in leadership

A letter from business leaders

Getting serious

In our
companies we see progress from building an understanding of gender diversity and
taking the actions described in Phase 1. However, for most of us, these alone do
not meet our aspirations. The next transition occurs when we move from an
interest in elevating women in leadership, to an understanding that we must
actively drive change in the same way that we do for any transformational
business imperative.

A company
cannot transition to Phase 2 until the CEO has conviction. This increase in
commitment makes sense for a variety of reasons. For some of us, there are
business grounds for making the next move. Some of us think of it as a moral
imperative—we want our daughters to have the same opportunities as our

for most it is a fundamental belief that our organisations will be disadvantaged
if we do not leverage half of our population. Many of us also believe that a
company culture that does not support the advancement of women will be
increasingly unattractive to the next generation of talent.

who are further along in the journey have a more penetrating approach to
managing the objective. Leadership becomes more driven—there is a
transition from asking questions and supporting programs to managing gender
balance as a business imperative—alongside other priorities such as
customer service, new markets or productivity improvement.

As Exhibit
9 shows, McKinsey’s Women Matter global research finds that having gender
diversity as a top strategic priority correlates directly to the actions a
company takes on gender diversity, and to the number of women in senior
management. This makes sense, but what actions need to be taken?

we must eliminate obstacles to merit-based appointments of women. For some,
tweaks or targeted interventions are required, so that talent processes can be
harnessed to drive change.

In the
first phase, HR led the charge with our support. In this second phase the
leadership team takes over. The task in the second phase is to provide strong
leadership, and where required, intervene to manage the talent pipeline to
deliver the best outcomes. People processes must deliver and develop the best
people—regardless of gender.

integrating the goal of elevating women’s representation in leadership
into the business agenda, companies move further towards achieving gender
balance than by relying on CEO personal interest and programs alone.

Exhibit 9: Having gender diversity on the top of the
strategic agenda is critical

Diagram: Having gender diversity on the top of the strategic agenda is critical

ensuring targets are in place, well understood and hardwired into scorecards,
senior leaders become good at identifying barriers—and intervening to
offset their impact. All of this adds up to improved results against objectives.
Exhibit 10 describes how ANZ embeds its gender balance aspiration into its
overall strategy.

there are risks, namely that the focus on women can be seen as compromising
rather than enhancing our
talent. ‘It’s important to be clear that my active interest and targets
don’t guarantee a woman a job or promotion. What they do is to increase
the probability that a talented woman will be considered alongside a talented
, says
Andrew Stevens from IBM.

In this
phase, the five most impactful actions are:

Make the leadership team the diversity council.
With an up shift in
commitment, we personally set and monitor progress against our diversity

Norris transitioned CBA’s diversity council from people with experience in
diversity, to the full executive committee—to better align accountability.
In the past, CBA’s diversity council might have provided advice, but no
specific action plan. Now, the diversity council ‘owns’ elevating
women’s representation in leadership. Meetings that used to be about
education are now about decisions and corrective action.

Says Gail
Kelly of The Westpac
Group, ‘the diversity council is chaired by me and made up of the full executive
committee. It needs to be us—we can call each other out and we can hold
each other to account. As the council evolves it may expand, but for now we own

diversity council, established in 2006, is chaired by David Thodey and comprises
six of his direct reports. This group provides strong strategic oversight and
draws connections across the organisation so that diversity and inclusion is
business-focused, aligned and deeply connected to customer, community and people
outcomes. Council members monitor key metrics and engage local groups to further
embed change.

Signal change with the appointment of women to key roles.
A number of us
describe needing to ‘prime the pump’ by making or facilitating key
appointments—whilst ensuring the appointments are solid. We all agree this
must be done without compromising meritocracy. We do this by becoming more aware
of the women around us. We also seek out those we may not have immediate
exposure to. Some of us deliberately remove barriers where meritocracy might be
failing. Others admit to simple good luck and fortuitous timing.

appointments signal a new diversity paradigm. At Woolworths, Michael
Luscombe’s appointment of two women into line roles in the senior
executive team signalled that promotion would not just be given to those with
years of technical experience, but that leadership qualities were also critical
to selection.

Stephen Roberts from Citi was looking for someone to join his team, he reached
out to a woman he knew who had started her own business. ‘I
asked her to tell me all the reasons it wouldn’t work. Then, I told her
what I was prepared to do to make it
months later, she has been nominated for a significant award by her
peers. ‘I often think of the others who are not getting that phone call. What a
, says

Alan Joyce
of Qantas states,
often about getting people to consider candidates who aren’t on the radar.
That drives the different outcomes.’

Shift from ‘diversity maths’ to measuring and managing
At this point,
we understand our ‘diversity maths’ well. From that foundation, we
move from a general to a granular view of the opportunities. We set realistic
and specific targets for each part of our organisation. We communicate the path
to achieving them. Plans are created and measured against. Diversity metrics
move from being separate scorecards to being embedded in reviews. Traditional
reasoning that diversity results are outside our control becomes unacceptable.

example, at Citi, a simple, achievable target focused on the CEO’s direct
reports worked well. Says Stephen Roberts, ‘We
needed a goal that would make a real difference, that was easy to measure, that
would build confidence. We also needed to ensure that we provided support for
groups who didn’t have a natural pipeline of women ready to take on
leadership roles. When provided the support, the knowledge and resources, it was
amazing how much progress we made in only a few
 This experience is described in Exhibit 11.

companies take different approaches to communicating targets. The Westpac Group
employed a mix of both internal and external communications to reinforce its
commitment. ‘Our
partnership with UN Women’s International Women’s Day served to
drive momentum internally, to raise the profile of key women in the pipeline,
but also to send a very public signal about the level of commitment and our
confidence about reaching our
, says
Gail Kelly.

Some of us
fear over-communicating targets or results because it might imply a move away
from merit-based appointment—and raise suspicions that women did not
‘earn’ their promotions.

In this
phase, companies also move towards considering the quality of the women in the
pipeline, not just the quantity. For example, at Woolworths, all talent
discussions include consideration of the proportion of female talent in the high
potential and promotable pools, as well as in the top 1000.

Intervene on talent.
We are aware of
patterns of hiring and promotions that don’t support our goal of
developing the best talent regardless of gender. Many of us report intervening
to get the right merit-based outcomes.

We become
increasingly aware that our processes overlook talented women, and therefore do
not support true meritocracy. We seek out ways to fix this tilted playing field:

Zero-in on top talent pools and high performer
Many of us
emphasise getting to know the women in our senior talent pools, leading to
several key appointments. Many of us are still in the early stages of tracking
promotion slates and succession planning to ensure that deserving women are

Some of us
have set goals for women representation in talent pools above the current share
of roles, to ensure sufficient access to opportunity.

leadership program integrates the company’s pipeline management and
succession planning process. IBM focuses on promoting women via managing a
‘women ready for promotion’ list. This is consulted when leadership
programs become available or new executive roles arise. All executive benches
must have at least one female candidate.

Mike Smith
and his team at ANZ talk about ‘early
and activist career and succession planning to ensure we are creating a strong
pipeline for line and business
. Women
are encouraged to think through their aspirations and the critical experiences
they need to achieve their goals. A clear career plan is important for employees
with leadership aspirations, particularly those who may take time

Bet more on leadership intrinsics in
Many of
us regularly question overly narrow experience requirements that might leave
women out. We observe that women’s experience might feel more
‘choppy’ than their male counterparts—due to factors such as
parental leave or a limited ability to consider mobility options.

In the
Australian Public Service, leaders work to interpret career break experiences,
such as leadership of a school’s Parents and Friends Committee, or a pro
bono role with the not-for-profit sector, into their evaluation of candidates.

Transition to sponsorship, not
Many of
us decide that our traditional approaches to mentorship are not enough. We
believe we need to provide not just general guidance for women, but also support
that helps them get promoted.

Exhibit 10: Embedding the diversity aspiration at

priorities and actions
  • HR
  • Diversity
    Council of interested leaders
  • Women
    in management targets
  • Strong
    and visible CEO and Senior Executive leadership
  • Gender/diversity
    identified as key differentiator in people strategy
  • Targets
    are ‘built into’ management board scorecard with regular reporting
    (at least quarterly)
  • Public
    targets and reporting
  • General
    desire for balance in graduate classes, and other entry points
  • Intention
    to develop more women leaders
  • Limited
    tracking of gender balance for outside hires
  • Target
    of 50% representation in graduate

    • – Intervention
      if not on track
    • – Consequences
      embedded in review process for not achieving
  • Focused
    action to develop and promote women with clear

    • – 3
      Management Board members
    • – 3
      country CEOs
    • – Senior
      women leading key businesses and operations
  • New
    expectations for service providers including policy for at least one woman on
    all recruitment slates with tracking
  • Women
    skill building and networks
  • Discrimination/sexual
    harassment training
  • Capability
    building focused on building inspiring and inclusive leadership; embedded in
    core competencies for advancement
  • Targets
    and tracking of women representation in key leadership
  • General
    understanding of talent pipeline
  • Promotions
    tracked and monitored as part of diversity strategy
  • Limited
    reporting or corrective action
  • Target
    share of women consistent with share of roles
  • Limited
    opportunities to intervene on exits
  • Targets
    for key talent and accelerated development programs
  • Detailed
    understanding of senior women

    • – Individual,
      early and activist career and development plans
    • – Succession
      planning for business critical/line roles
    • – Senior
    • – Close
      tracking of retention and promotion rates
  • Commitment
    to and actions plan to achieve gender pay equity
  • Gender
    Action Network
  • Mentoring
  • Building
    vibrant and diverse teams a key element in People strategy
  • Detailed
    understanding and promotion of the conditions and culture that enable women to
    advance and

    • – Inclusive
      and values-based leadership and culture
    • – Flexibility
      and support through career cycles
    • – Gender
      education and awareness sessions for all senior leaders
  • Commitment
    to advancement of women in society through financial capability and employment

Exhibit 11: Target setting: learnings from Citi

July 2010
July 2011
  • General,
    company-wide aspiration
  • Difficult
    to measure
  • Simple,
    achievable and specific goal
  • Focused
    on direct reports of CEO
  • Easy
    to measure
  • ‘Create
    an inclusive workplace through actively demonstrating commitment to the
    attraction, retention and development of a diverse talent
  • ‘Hiring
    a minimum of one senior woman into an approved, open
  • Focused
    on inclusiveness and being ‘the right thing to do’
  • Leaders
    asked to cascade goal to overall organisation
  • Highlighting
    business case, including reporting requirements, and current external climate of
  • Communication
    of impact on key metrics
  • CEO
    spoke personally to all direct reports about goal
and support
  • Very
    difficult to measure
  • Unclear
    consequences for achieving
  • No
    specific support offered
  • Simple
    to measure
  • Embedded
    in direct reports performance review
  • Search
    firms hired to support ‘hard to crack’ groups
  • If
    goal not achieved, reasons to be shared with senior management team, diversity
Impact: 9% increase in women in top 2 levels (from CEO)
  • More
    than 75% of groups achieved their goal early
  • Others
    are on track, and have clear plans to meet aspiration
  • Increased
    confidence and appetite for further increases
goal does not work, better to have:
  • Focused
  • Easy
    to measure target
  • Support
    mechanisms where needed

Exhibit 12: Sponsorship at Goldman Sachs

and Objectives
were disappointed with the promotion rates of senior women, which lagged rates
of their male counterparts. Many women were seen as having a lower profile than
their male counterparts. They also had fewer advocates on average from outside
the business.
Sachs in Australia is working to close this gap, through a formal sponsorship
program for senior women. The firm has already experienced a successful rollout
of the program in Asia.
  • Executive
    Directors assigned two Managing Director sponsors
  • Sponsors
    required to provide coaching focusing on impact, profile and
  • Feedback
    sought from sponsors regarding candidates’ responsiveness to feedback and
    their suitability for promotion  
  • In
    the first year, Goldman Sachs in Asia promoted the highest percentage of women
    to Managing Director
  • Promotions
    continue to be strictly merit-based, but the program helps close the
    ‘profile’ gap between the functional contribution high potential
    women make and broader recognition and visibility in the
  • Sponsorship
    programs provide leaders exposure to women that they might not have otherwise
    met and in some cases builds their own leadership skills

Exhibit 13: NAB Diversity and Inclusion Service Provider

of expectations for search and recruiting firms
NAB’s aspirations
providers will:
  • Be
    true partners in supporting NAB’s aspirations

    • – Providing
      a written strategy to improve their own diversity in terms of gender, age, work
      flexibility, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, etc.
    • – Reporting
      on gender diversity in their own organisations across all levels and any targets
      in place
  • Providing
    evidence that they are able to support NAB’s diversity aspiration by

    • – Inclusive
      language and imagery
    • – Channels
      that target diverse labour pools
    • – Validated
      short-listing processes that weed out biases
    • – Objective
      interview processes
  • Employ
    a robust approach to training recruitment consultants on diversity and
    inclusion, cultural awareness, non-English speaking background, bias in
    selection, EEO and anti-discrimination. This includes training provided to
    consultants on the service provider’s diversity policy, NAB’s
    Diversity and Inclusion Policy and unconscious bias
to track success
providers must also provide progress updates, including KPIs to NAB on a
quarterly basis that cover:
  • Gender
    metrics for all roles (successfully filled or not) which include the gender
    ratio for each phase of the process

    • – Initial
      pool of candidates
    • – Selected
      for Interview
    • – Shortlist
      provided to NAB
    • – Selected
      to interview by
addition, shortlists for senior management roles must include at least one woman
of sufficient quality/suitability recommended for interview. If such a candidate
is not presented, a written explanation is required each time

example, McKinsey & Company interviews with over 100 remarkable women
leaders globally found that for many female leaders there was a key individual
who believed in them. This sponsor shaped their professional destiny by pushing
them hard, opening the right doors, and giving them honest feedback when they
were veering off track. These efforts went well beyond ordinary mentoring
relationships—sponsors stuck their necks out, they looked for and created
opportunities for these women because they wanted their protégées
to succeed.

Many of us
also believe that sponsorship is particularly important in the first 3-5 years
of a woman’s career, not just when they are close to achieving a senior
role. Sponsorship during these early years where expectations are being
set—both the organisation’s and the woman’s—can make a
difference in their early trajectory, and in the likelihood that they will
strive for senior roles later on.

this means building the expectation that sponsorship is a key role of senior
leaders and emphasising its importance for women. All executive teams are
expected to know the women in their divisions who are part of talent and
graduates programs. Leaders are encouraged to engage and sponsor women through
meaningful work experiences, by identifying and building career paths, and
through regular people planning processes.

As Exhibit
12 shows, Goldman Sachs is rolling out a program that holds senior executives
responsible for the success of specific women. ‘Sponsorship
is about moving from coffee chats and advice, to actually backing our women, and
feeling responsible for their career success. It’s a real mindset
, says
Stephen Fitzgerald.

Stevens of IBM spoke at and attended various activities over three days of the
company’s women’s leadership training earlier this year, ‘It
was deeply satisfying. Fifteen of the eighteen senior women attending have had
real breakthroughs since then. Many have said my attendance helped. It also
allowed me to get in touch with, and to some extent, remove, barriers. It also
sent a message about just how important elevating women’s leadership is to

Exhibit 14: Telstra’s female employment brand

Diagram - Telstra’s female employment brand

Ensure your attraction engine is
Some of
our companies are working to increase the number of women brought in through
external appointments, especially into areas that are particularly male
dominated. As we focus on women talent, our search partners need to as well.
Most of us are now insisting on women candidates for all senior external
searches, where in the past, it was common for none to be presented at all.

example, NAB has introduced Diversity and Inclusion Service Provider Principles
that apply from 2012. These principles, outlined in Exhibit 13, require
recruitment partners to provide information regarding their diversity strategy.
Areas to be covered include strategic actions, training and processes that will
achieve the supplier’s stated diversity strategy. Reporting on the gender
ratio along each step of the recruiting process must also be submitted,
including the initial pool of candidates, screening, selection, and
short-listing for all roles. There is also a requirement that at least one woman
of sufficient quality will be recommended for interview.

Many of us
are re-thinking our own recruiting strategy, in the hopes of attracting more
women at all levels. Exhibit 14 describes Telstra’s recent efforts to
improve its recruiting approach, which resulted in the creation of a segmented
employment brand for women. This approach has more than doubled applications
within targeted areas, in the first three months of its

Citi is
taking an innovative approach to leveraging its networks to attract women,
including former employees of the company. Senior leaders, particularly women,
are regularly asked to provide referrals from their networks.

addition, a new program planned for launch focuses on engaging with Citi alumni.
Alumni will receive regular updates from leaders on knowledge, new developments
and opportunities at Citi. While the mission is broader than recruiting, there
is a belief that staying in touch with former employees, many of whom are on
extended career breaks, will be a powerful tool for attracting new employees or
referrals, particularly from women.

Surface barriers and
During this
phase, we work to surface, rather than drive underground, the fears, mindsets
and behaviours that work against reaching our aspiration. We might do this
through surveys and focus groups, and through individual conversations. It is
important to get a sense of things that stand in the way of meeting our

diversity on par with other business objectives makes a significant difference
and allows opportunity for real action. In this phase, we are getting good at
identifying barriers and intervening to offset their impact.

For most
of us, in this second phase we still see obstacles to reaching our ultimate
objective—an environment where supporting gender diversity is ingrained
within the very culture of our business.

we would encourage you to think about:

How do you
signal the importance of this issue to your organisation in the way you commit
your time, and in the conversations you have?

Do high
potential women inside your organisation or currently on career breaks have real

Can you
identify the top three priority areas where you and your top team need to
personally intervene?


strategy is to stay ahead of the curve on talent, by building a culture that is
truly inclusive. I tell people that we shouldn’t rest until we reach
census levels–50/50. When I see hesitation or resistance, I know I’m
onto something. I find it energising!’

Stevens, IBM

success of our strategy depends on having a vibrant workforce, with people who
understand and can connect with our customers and markets wherever we operate.
With more women in our leadership pipeline and senior executive ranks, we are
tapping into a much broader range of leadership styles, experiences and skills
to manage our business and achieve our goals.’

Smith, ANZ

is an iconic brand. It’s about the legacy you leave and diversity is a key
part of that. This covers gender, indigenous, disability, age, sexual
orientation. If I do it right, Qantas will be much more rounded, more
representative for a national icon and much stronger for the next 90 years. If I
leave with the right diversity in place, then it’s a job well

Joyce, Qantas

key to changing behaviours has been our consistent focus across multiple
generations of the APS. There is now a groundswell of people leaving a legacy.
Its become part of our culture and now, is just the way we do

Godwin, Merit Protection Commissioner, Australian Public Service

know that a diverse workforce creates value and we need to ensure we reflect the
customers and communities we work with. NAB sees our focus on the advancement of
women as a never ending journey. Early progress has been pleasing, however, we
need to ensure we stay the course.’

Clyne, NAB

is about sustainable gender diversity, not just a few key roles filled at a
moment in time.’

Morphet, Pacific Brands

me, this is all about, how we build great leaders. It’s a broader shift.
How do people lead other people? How do you work with each individual to make
them successful? How do you create an environment which is inclusive, where
everyone can perform to their potential? That’s why this is so

Thodey, Telstra

need to make leadership appointments, not technical ones. It will require focus,
but it’s absolutely the right thing to do for the business. Our culture
and performance will be all the better for it.’

O’Brien, Woolworths

been focused on building a strong inclusive culture for many years now to ensure
that we can attract and motivate the best talent possible, regardless of gender,
ethnicity, religion or sexual preference. This requires the courage to try new
things and challenge long held mindsets and unconscious bias. It also requires
unwavering commitment.’

Narev, CBA