IWD2018: leaders set sail for the winds of change

To celebrate International Women’s Day, all week bluenotes will be guest edited by respected journalist and author Catherine Fox. We’ll be publishing content on women, their experience in the workplace and the future of equality. We hope you enjoy it.

In 2017 the combined anger of women turned the #metoo sexual harassment revelations into a political force.

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The societal change was much broader, impacting on business – and businesswomen – across diverse fronts from the disillusion with authority figures to the perils of fact-free communication via social media. 

"#metoo didn’t come from privileged women. It came from the grassroots - women who knew the lived experience of most other women.” - Rhonda Brighton Hall

Much positive change occurred too and for International Women’s Day, bluenotes asked four female leaders whether the social movements of the past year had changed the way they do their jobs. 

Making sure all women – not just powerful ones – are heard

Rhonda Brighton Hall is a HR Leader and a Telstra Businesswoman of the Year, CEO and Co-Founder of mwah (Making Work Absolutely Human) and is on the board of the Australian Human Resources Institute.

#metoo didn’t come from privileged women. It came from the grassroots - women who knew the lived experience of most other women. 

That social movement combined with a few other things in my life last year to make me take stock of my own voice. 

In the upper echelons of corporate Australia you don’t find too many women who grew up, like me, in Wollongong and didn’t go to private school. 

I decided to create conversations more people could join. I’ve started using my own social media to ask questions and encourage others to have opinions, to get involved. I’ve used my own business to change conversations which used to belong only to big corporates.

I found new voices and gave them a platform from which to speak. I did a TED talk on how we can influence where we don’t have privilege and power. In short, I quietly got louder - and made space for others to be louder too. 

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Getting to the truth in a world of spin and misinformation

Edie Weiner is President and CEO of futurist consulting firm, The Future Hunters. At 29, she became the youngest outside woman ever elected to a US corporate board and she has served on more than 30 boards and advisory boards.

So my leadership style has always been to try and elevate the level of everyone I have ever worked with, in terms of my audiences and clients and all the non-profits I started and the women’s organisations I have started.

I want to elevate the level of their respect for everyone else and their respect for truth, for the inevitable, and their respect for the creativity and innovation which can change things for the better – both personally and organisationally.

I try to get to the truth of things. The hardest part of my job, frankly, is objectivity. And I have been working at this for 50 years and I can tell you I may be more objective than the average bear.

But I am so not totally objective. It is so hard. You carry so much baggage with you all the time.

I had a very religious client for many years and when I wrote my book Office Biology in the late 1980s, early 1990s, I was very truthful about the fact biology was teaching us we are all arrayed on a sexual spectrum – from male to female ­ and there were many crossovers in the middle.

The religious client wanted to supress my discussing that but I absolutely would not because that is what we were seeing. I lost them as a client because of that (and other things). I have always been honest and always try to observe the truth of things.

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Balancing business decisions with social responsibility

Michelle Jablko is the chief financial officer of the ANZ.

When things come across my desk, the first question I ask is: how does that fit with our purpose, our expectations of ourselves and the community’s expectations of us?

At ANZ, we have a clear purpose, which is to shape a world where people and communities thrive. “Shape” is a proactive word, rather than “help”. It is about actively doing things.

Social responsibility is not necessarily at odds with what is good for business. When you are a big business, what is good for your customers and the community is good for your business in the longer term. So, you might give up something in the short term to drive a better longer-term outcome.

I’ve been involved with a lot of businesses over the years and we do take hard calls to do something better for our customers or our people over the long-term versus the short-term outcome.

We are going to make the decision which is right in the broader sense.

We support a whole lot of causes and there are people in our workforce who are very passionate about a lot of things. So, as a group, we thought we should be really clear on which causes we should take a leadership position on.

As a bank, what would we be expected to have a voice on? We went through a long exercise of debating that and the first thing which came up was housing accessibility – because housing is a big part of our balance sheet. Housing accessibility is not just housing affordability.

The second cause was the environment, because we are a business which funds business and, while we don’t have a direct impact on the environment, a lot of our customer businesses do.

The third one is financial participation. If you want to have a world in which people and communities thrive and you are a bank, we think fostering participation is important.

We support other things and other causes but, if we are going to have a voice on things, they are the three.

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Power to the (young) people

Jan Owen is the CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians and YLab, the global youth futures lab and a former executive director of Social Ventures Australia.

Institutions around the world are degrading or are not fit for purpose in the Twenty First Century and they all have to be reimagined or redesigned or recast. While that is going on, you are seeing other movements crop up to address particular issues or challenges.

There is traditional leadership and there is movement-based leadership – which is incredibly powerful and is not mandated in the usual way by the institutions.

During the Marriage Equality survey, we saw young people in record numbers enrolling to vote –65,000 of them. They decided to get onto the voting system, not because they wanted to vote, but because of marriage equality and their very strong perception about what was fair and what wasn't. There is very clear data that they influenced the outcome.

There is something about young people at the moment being very, very conscious about issues and fairness and equity.

I think there is also a very strong trend around what we are seeing in Florida (in the wake of the latest US gun massacre) around student agency. I saw some incredible quotes about young people having to protect themselves and adults not doing it for them.

Then, there is also a strong trend around diversity. Is everybody getting access to the same opportunities? If you take that to the next generation, they see it as more than about women. They see it as diversity, people of colour, people of different abilities, all of that.

The issue for leaders is there are lots of Leaders. You may think you have institutional leadership, but there is a heap of other leadership which is going on around you all the time.

If you spend any time on YouTube or social media, you absolutely understand – particularly for the under 35 age group – there are a lot of people who are hugely more influential than almost any politician in this country at a non-policy level.

I am looking for leaders who are involved in the systemic change which needs to happen, the institutional change to improve our ability to live together, improve the economic outlook for people and improve social connectivity and inclusion.

If there was one kind of leader we need, a new kind of leader, it is that leader who is going to help redesign, reconfigure and reimagine institutional leadership.

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Fiona Smith is a freelance journalist who writes on leadership, specialising in careers, management and company culture.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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