"You cannot set and forget": CEO advice on gender equality strategy

Moving towards gender equality in an organisation involves a process of change. To assist organisations in this change-management project, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (‘WGEA’) launched a new and improved resource: the Gender Equality Strategy Toolkit (‘GES Toolkit’).

The GES Toolkit was two years in the making, after rigorous consultation with businesses and academics across Australia. The result is an evidence-backed, practical blueprint to step organisations through from diagnosis to strategy implementation.

Whether your organisation is big or small, a gender equality strategy enables organisations to move beyond an ad-hoc approach to ensure you reach your targeted results.

Why is a gender equality strategy so important?

Kylie Bishop, Group Executive People & Culture, Medibank

“Having a strategy is essential as it creates accountability to ensure gender equality at all levels in our organisation. A balanced workplace means the company is a representation of the community we serve, so everyone’s voice counts. 

What’s most important is that the strategy needs to be more than just a plan on a page or a vision.  It must be pragmatic, with tangible actions that permeate through everything we do as an organisation.”

Annette Kimmitt, CEO and Managing Partner, MinterEllison

“Implementing a gender equality strategy in our organisation was critical for our future direction.

“We are facing – as are all businesses – incredible competitive, disruptive forces, the rise of technology, artificial intelligence, new market entrants, globalisation, and demographic shifts. All of those things mean that our ability as an organisation to adapt and be agile and innovative becomes really important.

“A company's ability to really innovate and be agile has to be a central capability. You can't do that well when everybody looks and behaves and thinks the same.”

Kirsten O’Doherty, Vice President and General Manager, AbbVie

“A genuine commitment to achieving gender equality involves support from all levels of an organisation and a strategy can help to formalise this commitment and chart a course for the way that equality can be best achieved based on that organisation’s individual circumstances.

“A strategy can also help members of an organisation better understand the challenges that are being faced by first quantifying the magnitude of the existing inequities. This is often the case with pay equity for instance, where data can be quite illuminating, in highlighting pay gaps where leadership may have been otherwise unaware that there was inequality.”

What advice would you give to an organisation that is considering adopting and implementing a gender equality strategy?

Kylie Bishop, Group Executive People & Culture, Medibank

“We believe a gender equality strategy should sit within the broader framework of a diversity & inclusion strategy to be successful, in creating a truly inclusive workplace.

"Authenticity of the strategy is important – it needs include and incorporate the voice of employees and be based on where the organisation is currently at, and what needs to shift, for employees to truly believe in the organisation’s position on gender equality and create meaningful change.

"By doing this in a systematic way, incorporate the voice of employees, a gender equality strategy has the potential to have a significant impact on employee engagement, attraction and retention, not to mention organisational culture.”

Stephen Cornelissen, CEO, Mercy Health Group

“I think without the top leadership's support these strategies don't flow through the organisation. Unless you have that one hundred per cent commitment, I would worry that they will flounder."

Stephen also reminds organisations that equality issues do not just affect women.

“We need to also think that we are looking at equity for all. And gender equity for some of our males is a big issue.”

Kirsten O’Doherty, Vice President and General Manager, AbbVie

“A strategy with clearly defined goals helps organisations remain focused on the outcomes that need to be achieved. As with all strategies you cannot set and forget, it’s fundamentally important that the strategy is sponsored by senior leadership, resourced appropriately, reviewed regularly and formally measured to determine how and where progress is being made.”