Elizabeth Broderick entered her former role as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner with an opinion she now considers only part of the picture.
“I had a view that it was the collective action of women that was going to continue to drive the agenda [of workplace equality],” she says.
She still believes that’s true, saying unequivocally that it’s “what’s got women the rights they have today”. But as Broderick thought more about how to accelerate that progress she kept coming back to the realisation that men needed to more actively take the message of gender equality to other men.
Broderick called some of Australia’s most influential male business leaders and asked them to use their influence, power and their collective voice to “step up beside women as equal partners in change”.
“It’s not a women’s issue. It shouldn’t be up to women to solve. It’s a key social and economic issue,” she says.
The result was the Male Champions of Change strategy, a program through which male leaders advocate for and act to advance gender equality. Since that time, around seven years ago, 160 Australian men – leaders from business, government and a wide cross section of industries – have become involved.
Broderick says those years have resulted in plenty of positives. For one, women’s representation on boards has gone from 8 per cent to about 26 per cent in the past four to five years.
However, the situation in the C-suite has been a slower burn. In Male Champion of Change organisations, 75 per cent had significantly increased the number of women at executive and senior leadership levels, but Broderick says it’s not enough.
“I was just reading some research [by employment expert Conrad Liveris] that shows today in Australia if you look at ASX 200 companies there are more male CEOs named Andrew than women CEOs,” Broderick says.
While he’s not called Andrew, CEO Unilever Australia and New Zealand, Clive Stiff, holds a role where significant levers of power are at his fingertips. He believes gender equality is the right thing to do, but says that regardless of the ethics, empowering women makes good business sense (including for Unilever, which counts women as 70 per cent of its customer base).
“Personally, I have witnessed firsthand how gender-balanced, diverse teams perform better. More female voices leads to better decision making and ultimately superior outcomes for business and the world,” he says.
His company is aiming for gender balance by 2020, and says that locally women make up 52 per cent of Unilever’s management positions. An “all roles flex” culture is being rolled out, and Stiff says they want to normalise flexibility for men.
“[That’s] a critical unlock to enabling both men and women to manage their career and family ambitions,” Stiff says.
Today, as well as her founding role at Male Champions of Change, Broderick is a Special Rapporteur and Independent Expert on discrimination against women for the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. She recently took a small delegation of Australian CEOs to New York and presented the Male Champions of Change strategy there, to positive feedback.
Back home, she says participants are now ready to double down on the implementation phases, and are also committed to reporting their gender data.
“We know from international research that transparency drives impact; they are quite competitive,” she says.
Another successful action of the strategy has been panel pledges, where men in Male Champions of Change will only confirm their role as a keynote once seeing a final list of speakers that shows strong female representation.
“It costs nothing, but increases the visibility of women,” Broderick says.