Skip to main content

World Federation of Stock Exchanges

Discrimination Sex Discrimination

Check Against Delivery

Thank you Andreas for your generous introduction and for your inspired leadership of the WFE.

It is an honour and a privilege to be here this evening, addressing such a large group of influential leaders, key economic actors in your nations – leaders who cannot only influence but in many cases lead the corporate governance agenda.

I have been fortunate to be Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission for the last seven years. It is a job that takes me from floating islands in Korea, to 200 metres under the sea in a submarine to the United Nations in New York, to spending time with young women survivors of acid attack in Dhakka, to camping out with Aboriginal women in the Kimberly in Western Australia, to the Australian Securities Exchange and the boardroom of Australia, to the White House, the Pentagon and the World Bank.

That is the tremendous privilege of this role – whether you are working to support business people, refugee women, defence force personnel, aboriginal women, women with disability or women in low paid jobs – every day you meet inspiring individuals – individuals committed to using whatever influence they have to create a more equal world.

In my role I have worked very closely with business and the corporate sector to advance gender equality whilst at the same time ensuring strong business outcomes.  Having spent a 20 year career in business, I know it is business leaders like you who shape a nation’s workforce. It is through workforce participation that women’s empowerment occurs.  That is why business leaders are so important in this change agenda.

 Tonight, I want to share some thoughts on the untapped opportunity in your markets to increase gender diversity in leadership.  I also want to give some examples of how leaders, particularly men, and strong economic institutions like the Securities Exchanges can take practical action to influence change.  What you will hear tonight is an example of one country’s approach to gender equality.  Like other nations, we do not have the answers.  We are keen to listen and learn from others and we share our experiences as part of that process.

Why does gender equality matter?

First and foremost, equality between men and women is a human rights issue.  But the human rights case only gets us so far.  Put simply, gender equality is good for business – good for economic prosperity.

The fact is that women make up over half the world’s population and as I like to say, gave birth to the other half!  The question we must ask as business leaders is “Are we prepared to put to one side the creativity, talent and skills of over 50% of the world’s population on the basis of gender?" Because that is what is at stake and let me tell you why.

In every nation, despite their academic achievement at school and university, women’s academic prowess has not translated into achievement in paid work.

In developed nations like Australia, women now represent the majority of university graduates.  Women represent by far the largest untapped talent pool that exists. 

Indeed, recent research by Credit Suisse and other organisations shows that the global representation of women on boards is at a mere 12.7% and female participation in top-management stands at 12.9%. And the number of female CEOs is miniscule: 3.3% in North America, 3.5% in Europe, 1.9% in EMEA, 2.0% in Latin America, 4.4% in Developed Asia and 6.6% in Developing Asia.

So there is no doubt that we have a long way to go if we are to address the underrepresentation of women at senior level. 

So why focus on gender equality as a business priority?

The fact is that research has shown time and again that gender diversity particularly at the leadership level leads to higher returns.

Firstly, diversity provides critical insight into those who make purchasing decisions in today’s economy. In Europe, for example, women are the driving force behind more than 70% of household purchases. And even in industries where buyers are traditionally male, women represent a growing proportion of the consumer base; for example women influence 60% of new car purchases in Japan and make up about 47% of PC users in Europe. (2007 McKinsey Women Matter)

Secondly, diversity is correlated with better performing organisations. This results from diversity of thinking, improved decision making, reduced turnover, and increased access to the best talent. Credit Suisse’s recent global research makes this point clearly--companies with greater gender diversity on their board have better stock market returns. Indeed, companies with more than one woman on the board have returned a compound 3.7% a year since 2005 over those that have none. Not only that, companies with higher female representation at the board level or in top management exhibit higher returns on equity, higher valuations and also higher payout ratios.

And thirdly, women’s increased workforce participation can improve economic growth. This is particularly relevant in light of the workforce shortages many countries are facing. We experience this acutely back in Australia, but this is also true across the world. For example, if the employment rate for women remains constant, Europe can expect a shortfall of 24 million people in the active workforce by 2040; if, on the other hand, the rate can be raised to the same level as men, then the projected shortfall drops to 3 million. (2007 McKinsey Women Matter).  This is one of the issues to be discussed by the G20 in Australia as they seek to reduce the gap in male and female employment rates by 25% by 2025.

So it doesn’t matter whether you are a securities exchange or a military – gender diversity particularly at senior levels enhances capability.  We see this every year at this meeting in the strong contribution of the women representing exchanges of the WFE.

Despite the compelling need for change, progress will be hard-won. There are significant and pervasive barriers that must be removed if women are to progress. I like to think about these barriers in 3 groups:

1.They include societal norms or beliefs – beliefs about the roles men and women play – good mother belief, ideal worker belief.

2. organisational beliefs and systems including beliefs about leadership.  Strong leadership has a male face.  Our views, after all, have been established over centuries using an exclusively male model.  The same goes for career development systems – they are deeply rooted in a male life cycle.

3. Structural impediments including lack of quality, affordable childcare, a biased taxation regime and a retirement income system which looks gender neutral on its face but which reproduces disadvantage for women – all have been designed with the male norm in mind.   

Having been in my role for seven years now I have become more and more convinced of four things.

First of all, that change is not only desirable, but also possible.  The business and human rights cases for change are clear.  This, of course, needs to be the starting point.

Secondly, that if we don’t actively and intentionally include women we will unintentionally exclude them. 

Thirdly, that to deliver equality for women we actually have to focus on men.  And the reason for this is clear – to rely on women alone to create change when they do not hold the levers of power is an illogical approach.  Placing the onus on women to “fix the problem” of women’s under-representation means that nay failures will be laid at the door of women rather than identified as systemic deficiencies.

And finally, we must make the case for change personal.  Why personal?  Well we must help people to move beyond their gender schema – beyond their deeply held belief system - the beliefs we have about the role of men and women - the thoughts we internalised at a very young age when we first placed our feet on the ground and looked around to understand the place of women and men in the world today.  For most of us those beliefs clash with the case for change. This makes it difficult for us to accept a new model – a model where leadership is shared between men and women.

What I am really saying, is that we need to stop treating gender equality as if it is just a women’s issue.

Creating change therefore requires men to take the message of gender equality to other men. It requires men to get on board, to take action and to encourage their peers to do likewise.

So tonight I thought I would provide one example of how this idea of focussing on men and making it personal looks like in practice.  I share our Australian experience acknowledging that it may not be appropriate to other jurisdictions, but also understanding that sharing new strategies is fundamental to making progress.

About three years ago now, having realised how integral men were to making progress, I picked up the phone and rang a group of Australia’s most powerful and influential men – men who lead Australia’s iconic companies like Telstra, Qantas, Commonwealth Bank and Woolworths – men who led global organisations like Citibank and IBM – men who hold the most senior roles in Government – Secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury and the Army – and I made a personal plea.  I asked them “Will you use your power and influence, your collective voice and wisdom to create change for women in Australia?”  

I remember the first conversation I had.  This particular CEO had twins – a boy and a girl.

I explained to him that in Australia today women hold only 3% of CEO positions of the top 200 companies and only 17% of board directorships. That in every sector in Australia the basic rule is that the higher up you go the less women you see.  That these results exist despite in 2012 women representing more than 60% of university graduates and are 50.8% of Australia's population.  And finally I told him that while women were excluded from power - economic, political and social - they would be marginalised all across Australia.

Whilst we've been talking about the numbers for decades, what shifted for this CEO was the understanding that without intervention by decent powerful men, this story would become his daughter's story.  His daughter would not have the same opportunities as his son – all because she was a girl.  Not only did he understand the case for change with his head he started to understand it with his heart. 

As one of the now 25 Male Champions explains “Let’s not pretend that there aren't already established norms that advantage men. Men invented the system. Men largely run the system. Men need to change the system." And that's what the Male Champions of Change strategy is all about - men changing the system.

With that in mind, I remember our first get together, about 15 A-type personalities and me. As one man said “This issue is not beyond our intellectual capacity to solve. Excuses are just that!”

The discussions are serious, they are led by men, and action is taken. 

Their main message is that gender equality is about leadership.  It’s about stepping up and becoming a strong and visible leader on gender diversity in your own organisation first.

The Male Champions have developed a model to examine whether they are living up to their own aspirations in championing women. As leaders they are analysing four elements of their leadership approach:

  • what I say
  • how I act,
  • what I prioritise and
  • what I measure.

Early on through honest conversations they started to understand their leadership shadow. They have analysed their diaries, conducted consultations with employees on their leadership approach and have developed a simple leadership model that you see on the screen.  They are now devising a transition plan to migrate their own leadership practices to the new model and they are cascading this model through their organisations.  There were breakthrough moments when these leaders recognised that their reality was not matching their intention. 

They have also written to every business leader in Australia urging them to take action. Over 150,000 copies of their letter have been distributed. 

Another area they are working on is making visible the bias and harmful gender stereotypes that prevent the status quo from changing. One of the strategies they are using in this area is to ask: ‘50/50, If Not? Why Not?’. They ask: ‘If women make up over 50 per cent of Australia's population why am I not seeing 50 per cent of women in ......’.  It allows them to see the bias that prevents women from achieving more clearly and to take action.

They have adopted the panel pledge.  They speak at over 1,000 events a year on security, aviation, technology, the economy and many other areas.  Prior to accepting any invitations they now ask how many women will be speaking at the conference and if the numbers are insufficient they suggest appropriate female speakers.  They recognise that women must be visible if they are to build strong careers.  They also speak at over 200 women’s leadership conferences each year taking the learning from the Male Champions of Change across the world. 

Having Elmer Funke Kupper, head of the Australian Securities Exchange as a strong member of the MCC group has created significant momentum in Australia.  He understands that if you are to treat gender diversity as a business priority, you must apply standard business disciplines.  This means understanding the data, setting targets, designing actions and interventions, taking the learning and then starting again at the action step.  Just like you would put together a revenue, safety or customer service change effort.

The group believed firmly that all leading organisations should set targets and report publicly at a sufficiently granular level that would provide insight.  Elmer formed a partnership with the Australia’s Department of the Treasury.  We brought together representatives across the 17 member organisations of the Male Champions of Change.  They were tasked with recommending a system of reporting that would build on ASX’s already strong Corporate Governance Principles.  The recommendations of the group were first adopted by most MCC organisations and the following year were rolled into the revised Corporate Governance Principles that apply to more than 2,200 listed companies.

This is significant – an example of systemic change.  Imagine the transparency, the focus and most importantly the learning that will come out of such efforts.  We know from our research that Corporate Governance Principles are one of the most important forces for changes in gender equality, and Elmer made that happen with collaboration and input from 20 other peers.

There are now related groups of Male Champions in other states in Australia South Australia, Queensland, and Victoria.  There are also sector-based groups –one focused on companies involved in infrastructure, engineering and the built environment, and another commencing in the property sector.  A recent development saw Prime Minister Abe setting up a group to support his Womenomics initiatives.  Others are looking to adopt the model in emerging economies across the world. 

And next month the Male Champions will launch their MCC Guide which documents every aspect of their strategy and their learning from the last three years.  This Guide will assist any Male Champion of Change group across the world to take action through listening, learning and leading. 

The Male Champions of Change has been a controversial strategy. Some thought I was suggesting that we women were waiting to be saved by corporate knights in shining armour galloping paternalistically into territory we’ve occupied for years?

This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Women’s voices remain at the heart of advancing gender equality and eliminating violence against women BUT what is also clear is that change will only come when men take the message of gender equality to other men.

In closing I return to my original questions “Are we prepared to put to one side the creativity, talent and skills of over 50% of the world’s population on the basis of gender?” Because if we are not, strategies like the Male Champions of change might provide a good starting point.

As we conclude tonight can I leave you to reflect on these questions?  What is the opportunity for change in your country? What role can powerful and decent men play? What role might the exchange play? How might you get started?

It’s been an absolute pleasure to join you tonight.  Thank you for inviting me and for having the foresight to include a discussion about gender equality as part of your annual meeting. 

Together we can create a more equal future.

Thank you

Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner

See Also

Discrimination Sex Discrimination

Engaging Male Leaders for Gender Equality

UN Women National Committee Japan Symposium: Women can participate even more! How Women’s Empowerment Principles will change the future of work

Speech Icon