A powerful man’s view of women banging on the glass ceiling

Women gaining power

By Kate Southam

As CEO of ANZ Bank, Mike Smith is a pretty influential fella.

Smith was appointed CEO of ANZ in 2007 at age 50. A Brit, Smith came to the role from his post as chief executive of HSBC’s Asian business. He has worked in 10 countries across five continents.

I mention his background because Smith is a supporter of women climbing the corporate ladder and I find that interesting. Is he interested in fairness? Is it the aging population – and workforce – and he is worried about keeping the bank competitive or does he think women just make great senior executives?

I heard Smith speak at a lunch to officially launch the 2010 Census on Women in Leadership carried out by Macquarie University every two years on behalf of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency. Smith wasn’t too thrilled about the still low number of women at the helm or working within the senior ranks of Australia’s top 200 ASX-listed companies. See results.

“To be blunt, not much has changed since the Census started in 2002 – or for that matter since I first came to work in Australia 20 years ago,” Smith told the audience in Sydney today. “There is still no level playing field for ambitious women who want to fulfil their potential.”

For Smith, the drive for greater gender diversity in business leadership is an economic imperative. He says emerging economies such as China, Brazil, India and Russia were making full use of their female business talent and Australia needed to as well.

Smith says a lack of gender balance on boards and within the senior ranks of organisations trapped companies in “group think” when “innovation in thinking” was what was required to compete globally in a fast changing world.

He says business battles were set to get more intense and to win those battles companies needed the best talent available regardless of gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation or religious belief. In short, diversity provides companies with the competitive edge they need.

He also believes it will be easier to increase the number of women on boards than filling CEO roles.

Smith also raised the issue of women taking time out to have and raise children and the impact that had on their careers. He announced ANZ’s new $4,000 childcare allowance for staff returning to work on top of the 12 weeks paid parental leave at full pay the bank already offer plus the payment of superannuation on all forms of paid parental leave.

After Smith’s speach, he joined a panel taking questions from the audience. The other panel members were Nancy Fox, managing director of AMBAC Assurance Corporation; Sandra McPhee, a member of the AGL Energy board amongst her many current leadership roles and Rick Lee, chairman of Salamat Limited .

Fox told the audience that highly experienced board members and business leaders needed to put their reputations on the line to back talented women. “Mentoring is not enough. We need to take the next step and offer sponsorship. We need to say, ‘I would like to recommend you for the role .. I would like to introduce you to my network’.”

Chairman of Salamat Limited Rick Lee said men often migrated to one area of focus “and sometimes cannot see the wood for the trees” where women brought a different perspective to problem solving.

The panel were also asked by a man in the audience about how men would benefit from gender diversity in the senior ranks of business.

Smith said more women at the top would remove some of the ‘macho culture’ that drove men to stay late at work just to be seen as well as reduce male aggression. “Men will fight each other and can be very aggressive. Women are more pragmatic …they can introduce a level of calm.”

McPhee told the audience that the saying ‘what gets measured gets managed’ could be taken one step further to become ‘what gets renumerated gets managed’. She suggested organisations set “KPIs” targets for their senior managers around gender diversity and then tie those targets to bonuses.

I remember seeing Guy Russo talk some years ago when he was CEO of McDonald’s. He had a system where senior executives had to include female candidates in briefs to recruiters as well as succession planning.

 If they could not include a qualified female candiate they had to explain why not. In other words, they were not encouraged to put forward token women but to actively start to spot and then develop female talent as well as male talent. McDonald’s current CEO is Catriona Noble.

Article from CareerOne.com.au October 7, 2010.

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