July 28, 2011 — Last month, Catalyst’s Debbie Soon, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Marketing, headed “Down Under” to meet with leaders committed to diversifying Australian workplaces. In today’s guest-post, she outlines the lay of the land around gender diversity—including the challenges and opportunities—in a country known for its male-driven “blokey” culture. —Ilene H. Lang
I recently returned from Australia, visiting a number of Catalyst members, partners, and colleagues (and discovering some of the most interesting wildlife I have ever seen—did you know that a cassowary is the most dangerous bird in the world?!) Birds aside, I found that the Australian economy is vibrant and businesses are buzzing. Within corporations, in the news, and even in Parliament, the phrase “unconscious bias” seems to be at the forefront of conversations about gender diversity. Who would have thought to look “Down Under” for an example of how to mobilize a country to embrace gender diversity in the boardroom and throughout the business environment?
By 2013, all companies with 100 or more employees must report their gender statistics to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), Catalyst’s census partner in Australia, which will compile the data and report the results to the Australian Parliament. Are companies taking this reporting requirement seriously? You bet!
No one wants to see government mandates. (Been there, done that—don’t want to do that again!) So, businesses are taking matters into their own hands and proactively seeking ways to improve their company images and their workplaces to better appeal to women and to ensure that women stay and advance through the ranks.
Corporations appear to understand that it’s their responsibility to reach out to women, starting with the top. According to the Australian Institute of Company Directors—which partnered with the Australian government to implement mentoring, coaching, and education programs for women aspiring to board positions—29% of all new appointments to ASX 200 boards so far in 2011 have been women, an improvement over the 25%, 8%, and 5% numbers in 2010, 2009, and 2008, respectively.
Whether this momentum will continue is yet to be seen. And what the organizational diversity numbers will be in 2013 when the first reports are due, is also yet to be seen. But this much is clear: Australian companies seem to be answering the gender diversity question, “If not, why not?” with the response, “Why not!”
Debbie Soon is responsible for Catalyst’s business strategy and planning, market assessment, and overall marketing operations. For Catalyst’s entry into new markets, she sets priorities and develops the business model, entry strategy, and plan. In addition, she is responsible for brand management, corporate events, public affairs, IT, and Catalyst’s Corporate Board Services. Debbie holds a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of California at San Diego and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School. She also completed special studies in Mathematics at Cambridge University, England. Ms. Soon is a member of the Executive Committee and Board of Advisors of DirectWomen Board Institute and a member of the Advisory Panel to the Diverse Director DataSource, a CalPERS/CalSTRS board diversity initiative.