Engaging Men in the Gender Debate

I knew from the headline that this debate was going to lead to an interesting topic of conversation and I must say I was not disappointed. A big thank you to the American Chamber of Commerce who brought an enlightened group of panelists together in the serene setting of the River Room at Crown Casino on Tuesday 20 February.

The room was primarily made up of women but a handful of brave men graced the audience with their presence. While enjoying a beautiful breakfast the panel Mark Hand, Managing Director, Retail Distribution at ANZ; Anne Ward, Chairman, Qantas Superannuation Limited; and Nicholas Barnett, CEO, Insync Surveys shared their inspiring stories and insights into gender diversity in the workplace particularly at a high corporate level.

Jane Fraser, Director, Australia Consulting at Hay Group opened the debate in a warm and friendly manner which brought a lovely silence to the room and the audience sat back to revel in the discussion.

Mark who has been with ANZ for more than 24 years in a variety of different roles is a strong advocate and supporter of the ANZ mentoring and development programs, which aim to provide guidance to talented staff within the company. Mark was light and witty with his introduction into this debate commenting that he wants to help make a difference for his daughters when they are ready to enter into the work force by striving to achieve a platform that is fair and diverse, where talent and ability outweigh gender misconceptions. Within ANZ he has embraced the 50/50 rule when recruiting new staff, and invests the time into searching for the best candidate for the job. He runs programs to encourage women to have the confidence to apply for senior roles generally seen as only available to men. Mark also holds a membership on the board of Diversity Council Australia and ANZ Staff Foundation and endeavours to encourage other men to adopt a positive view of women in senior roles.

The panel members at the American Chamber of Commerce Gender Debate
The panel members at the American Chamber of Commerce Gender Debate

After Mark had got the ball rolling and the audience were sitting back and enjoying their second coffee for the morning, Anne took to the stage to share the female perspective. Anne has an extensive background in finance, legal, investment and governance across a wide range of industries, and shared her insights on women attempting to climb the corporate ladder. Anne expressed her dismay at the lack of women in senior roles in major companies in Australia. Within her position at Qantas she embraces the Staying in Touch program, which connects women on maternity leave and endeavours to keep them abreast within the company and hence make their return to the work force seamless. Anne also commented that gender equality within the work force in Australia is recognised as one of the worst in the world, and she believes a positive way forward is for leaders act as role models to create a culture and open guidance to women. Anne brought a smile to everyone’s face in the room commenting that “when we have as many incompetent females in senior roles as men then we should address quality”.

Quoting Rob Thaves on Fred Astaire “sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards, and in high heels.”

Nicholas being the last speaker had itchy feet as he had been patiently waiting his turn to share his frustrations on the lack of equality for women in the work place. Nicholas has over 30 years experience in accounting, consultancy, recruitment and insurance, not to mention he is a non-executive director of Mission Australia. Nicholas immediately engaged the audience’s attention with his passionate and interactive persona, with a vote asking women in the room if they thought they were on a level playing field with men. 90% voted no. Then he asked the men in the room what their view was on women in the work place and the response was genuine and positive;  they would like to see an equal gender balance encouraged. Nicholas made an interesting point about the general shyness of women when it comes to asking for a raise. Men seem  to be better at this and have no qualms in leaving an employer if expectations are not met.  He closed by quoting Nicholas Barnett, “be authentic be real”.

The audience then shared their views and experiences through a Q&A with the panel, which was both passionate and illuminating. Before the room dispersed I spoke with some of the wonderful women present and they all agreed this was a very insightful and encouraging debate that addressed many of their issues, and in turn made them feel more confident going into the future.

This was a fabulously engaging event. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many intelligent, positive and proactive women. Definitely a step in the right direction to encouraging gender equality in corporate Australia.

Kerry-Ann Bartle

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