NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian’s Insistence on Female Lunch Companions Falls on Deaf Ears

NSW Treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian, is one of the most powerful women in the country, and yet, even she can’t get business leaders to round up a few female employees for a boardroom lunch. It is something she puzzles over, she told a Women in Banking event hosted by Deutsche Bank in Sydney.

When invited to business events, Ms Berejiklian has often discovered she is the only woman in the room and so her office makes it a practise to insist – as a condition of her acceptance  – on having other women present to help encourage diversity and networking opportunities for them.

“And I found even when I did that, for whatever reason, the women are still not there. And I can’t work out whether it is because people are too busy to rustle them up, or the women don’t want to come,” she said.

I don’t know what the reason is. I still walk into a boardroom lunch and I’ll be the only woman in the room.”

The issue of making sure women’s voices are heard is something tackled by the Male Champions of Change, a forum for high profile chief executives, created by outgoing Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

Noting that fewer than 15 per cent of panellists at events in Australia are female, the champions of change encourage their peers to sign a “panel pledge” that they will not agree to speak on panels unless there is a balanced mix of male and female speakers.

“Champions” who have signed the pledge include Woolworths chairman, Gordon Cairns, ASX CEO, Elmer Funke Kupper, Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, Rio Tinto group executive, Technology & Innovation, Greg Lilleyman, Commonwealth Bank CEO, Ian Narev, and Goldman Sachs CEO, Simon Rothery.

At a Male Champions of Change lunch on August 25, former IBM managing director, Andrew Stevens, said the panel pledge had to apply to internal and external speaking events.

“Fifty-fifty [gender balance] needs to be stipulated in 100 per cent of cases,” he said.

“The panel pledge forces people to confront their personal role in contributing to gender inequality and to take personal responsibility for making change and doing something about it.”

“By taking action, you’ll not only be stimulating  and balancing and developing better outcomes on the panels themselves, but you will create a virtuous circle, which is encouraging more and more opportunities for women to speak and, in doing so, will lead to a normalisation of women as authoritative figures …”

Mr Stevens said that only the previous week, he had been on a gender-balanced panel, with a female chief operating officer, a female director of projects for a major listed company, and a male senior vice president of a global company.

“It was diverse, it was challenging and, yes, fortunately for the audience, we had some disagreement that kept everybody on the edge of their seats,” he said.

However, before he had enforced the pledge, the proposed panel had been all-male.

Start-up conference, Sydstart, caught some flak in July when it announced a preliminary all-male line up of speakers. Since then, it has secured digital marketplace Envato co-founder, Cyan Ta’eed, co-founder of Grok Learning, Nicky Ringland, and fashion website Hijup.com founder Diajeng Lestari.

The panel pledge’s insistence on equal numbers of men and women reflects the idea that having a token one or two women among a sea of men does little to normalise the presence of women as figures of authority.

Chair of executive women’s organisation, Head Over Heels, Gazaleh Lyari, said it takes three women to get some momentum on a board.

The chief executive of Coca-Cola Amatil, Alison Watkins, said there are three women (including herself) on her board.

“Instead of being in a situation where ‘the woman is speaking’, it’s a conversation. In a company like ours, we are a very consumer oriented company, women control the decisions in probably 70 per cent or more of our purchases, so it is very important to have female perspective.”

Ms Watkins was sharing the stage at the Deutsche Bank event in August with Ms Berejiklian, Ms Lyari and also AFL Commissioner and Mirvac board director, Sam Mostyn.

Ms Mostyn said the quality of decision-making improves with increased diversity: “You can’t  stop at one or two. You can never just have a couple of women around to solve the issue, it must be at least one third of any leadership team or board for the real dividend to accrue.”

Australian Financial Review

Heads Over Heels

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