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  • 6 September
  • by Tim Keith
  • Culture

In this month’s Balance Now update, Tim writes about the impact of culture, particularly male dominated culture, and the considerable impact it has on organisations.

Culture is tricky, and dynamic. As leaders we need to be acutely aware of the decisions we make and the impact they have on the culture of the organisation. Given that men still hold the significant majority of leadership positions in Australian corporate life, we (men) need to be particularly aware of and understand our impact.

The Importance of Diversity

First lets review the data on the value of diversity. The research continues to show the improved organisational culture, financial performance, innovation and employee engagement of diverse companies. I know from experience that the benefits of owning up to our biases is powerful and transformative. Improving the diversity of your teams and making your organisation more inclusive delivers significant financial benefits.

Take this 2017 McKinsey & Co chart showing that companies with top quartile financial performance have a much larger relative representation of women.

Leadership Norms

Now lets look at the data on business leadership & diversity in Australia. The Board, the CEO, and the executive team are at the top of our organisations. Men dominate these positions.  The latest statistics on male executive representation are:

  • 72.3% of ASX200 Boards*
  • 93% of ASX200 CEOs**
  • 77% of ASX200 Executive Leadership Teams**

The culture of Australian business and companies is predominantly dictated by men. Research by organisational psychologists points to culture coming from the top. The men that fill these roles don’t just set the culture. They own the culture. I have personally experienced the impact of this masculine based culture during my time working in a major bank. At Balance Now we work with large corporates every day and we continue to see the impact of ego driven, competitive and bias driven decision making. Every woman I know has been negatively impacted in some way by this culture.

There are highly visible pockets of great men and great culture. These dwarf the pockets of women who make it to the top. We inexplicably seem to highlight and reward the male achievers but choose to ignore or minimise the accomplishments of our great female leaders.

Thats not to say that in my experience a majority of men, including leaders, try to be inclusive and build diverse teams, they just don’t know how! We also know its hard, and many just give up, move on or tick boxes hoping something will change. It generally doesn’t.

Gender Deflection

It’s striking how male dominated culture has been reflected in recent controversies. The focus on gender as a contributor to the outcomes of these situations only masks the reality and the need for change. It distracts us from rational thought and creates excuses without addressing the underlying issues.

In recent times we’ve read about gender in relation to:

  • AMP & the Banking Royal Commission – intensity of focus on one female chair in an industry dominated by men
  • Board performance – conjecture on women not having the appropriate skills, in a group where more than 70% are men, and where good corporate governance requires boards to work as one team
  • #metoo movement – women speak up, men admit to multiple harassments
  • Domestic violence – abhorrent, disturbing and incredibly sad, and yes, predominantly perpetuated by men
  • Political decisions – leadership spills, bullying, personal scandals, token representation of women and minorities in parliament, inequitable budget allocations, again all historically initiated and perpetuated by men

These issues are not about women, they are about the pervasive culture men set in our society. It’s time for change. Men (like me) need to be more thoughtful, considerate and intelligent in our daily decision making. We need to own up to:

  • Hiring and supporting people like ourselves
  • Preferring to hang on to the status quo at great community cost
  • Deciding for now, and not the future
  • Staying quiet, when we should speak or step up
  • Supporting a society where our sons are more likely to succeed than our daughters
  • Arguing against equality, when we truly believe in the need for change

I’ve made some of the mistakes listed above. I’d like to think I have taken accountability for these errors. I want to live in a fairer, more equal world. I try each day to make the right choices that support equality, not just on gender but for everyone.

Leaders and Culture

One decision I remember well, was considering two equally talented candidates for a senior leadership role. One male, one female. I opted for the male leader because he had more direct experience with clients. At the time I neglected to think about the impact on team, future performance and our culture. In hindsight it was a poor decision and the leader I chose tapped out quickly while the one I overlooked went on to bigger and better things. Worse still, this leader created a culture that was ego driven, inward looking and not collaborative. Ultimately our business performance suffered.

These types of mediocre leaders are difficult to shift in large organisations. Despite a number of efforts, this leader still occupies his position and blocks important change or hoards talent for his personal gain.

So, choose your leaders wisely!



 How Can You Lead Differently?

  1. Have the courage to make unpopular decisions – Hire high-potential women even if people don’t think they have the technical experience to do the job or they want to work flexibly in the role. Do everything in your power to make them successful
  2. Replace old school, protectionist leaders –  The world is moving faster than ever, your organisation and culture will be left behind
  3. Question appointments for fairness – When you see the ‘boys club’ in action, ask for the objective data that supports the decision-making process
  4. Check your decisions and actions for bias – Leaders need to be especially aware of the impact that their daily decisions can have. The higher up you are in an organisation, the larger the ripple effect. Engage a trusted independent observer (preferably of the opposite gender) to check your decision making for bias. We all have biases, its part of being human
  5. Try not to attend meetings, conferences or events without a reasonable balance of participants – If you have to attend, invite someone of the opposite gender. This equally applies to male dominated conferences as it does to internal or industry wide female networks. We all live in a co-mingled world
  6. Support those less influential or important – Stand up, speak up, support or address the issue immediately when you see or hear it. Don’t be a silent bystander
  7. Consider your impact on those around you – Do you always include everyone who works with you? Stop meetings, client events or strategic actions that exclude people
  8. Consider your legacy – It doesn’t have to be grand, we are all soon forgotten. What your family & friends will remember is your relationships and humanity. The rest is lost forever

We also know that having data to help make the right decisions in your organisation is important. At Balance Now, we remove the emotion and subjectivity of the conversation on diversity & inclusion by presenting the facts. CEOs, executive teams and leaders embrace the information to begin the change process. It might be confronting (or pleasing) but it enables leaders to face the reality of the decisions they make and the impact on their employees and the culture they set. Do you properly understand the culture or your workplace? Are you actions hindering building an inclusive team? Are the critical business decisions you make, especially those involving recruitment & promotion free from bias?

A key part of the work we do in Diversity & Inclusion is engaging men. We understand in our economy that men still make most of the decisions. We engage them, empower them and coach them to lead the change most of them want to see.

If you recognise some of the cultural issues discussed in this update, want to find some answers in the data of how your employees truly think about your organisation, or need help on how to make the change, then please contact us at Balance Now.

* Australian Institute of Company Directors – June 2018, ** Chief Executive Women – Census September 2018

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