Episode 7: Women in Leadership Roles

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As companies are being driven towards equality, board meetings and leadership roles still represent a challenge for females and indigenous people who wish to raise their concerns. We speak with Amanda Young, former CEO of First Nations Foundation, and Chris Franks, Chair of Women in Aid and Development about their experiences in leadership roles and the importance of gender and cultural representation.

 

Amanda Young is an Indigenous woman to the Pacific Islands who has worked extensively across the political, social and economic equity of Indigenous people. A lawyer by trade, she has worked in criminal law, government, commerce and as the CEO of an Australian Indigenous economic charity she won awards for a world-first Indigenous financial edutech program and a superannuation outreach program that reunited $24 million superannuation with its remote Indigenous owners. An Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity at the London School of Economics, she has attended Harvard and Stanford executive business schools, she now builds the Oceania Atlantic Fellows program at the University of Melbourne as its partnerships manager.

Chris has been a volunteer in the international development sector for 35 years and is a strong advocate of customer owned banking – she is Chair of RESULTS Australia, Chair of Women in Aid & Development, Director of Gateway Bank and a member of CUFA International Programs Committee. She has been a director and Chair of a number of not for profit, government, mutual and corporate organisations including CUA, ACFID Code of Conduct Committee and was the recipient of the inaugural ACFID Award for Outstanding Service to the Aid and Development Sector. Chris believes our society is stronger, better managed and better governed with women in leadership roles. To that end her aim as the founder and Chair of the Women In Aid & Development network is to encourage, inspire and support women to advance their careers and, in time, secure leadership, CEO and director roles.

Find out more about Amanda Young


 

Find out more about Chris Franks


 

Transcript

 

Amanda Y

There are only 10 female CEOs of ASX 200 companies, and that's the lowest since the census began. They started the census four years ago. So what we're saying is that in corporate Australia, we're going backwards.

 

Chris F

Women still take the biggest part of care for their family, for their children. And until we get to a position that there is far more parity in sharing the family responsibilities, that's when we're going to get more women able to participate in my view.

 

Peter M

How do you lift women up within the organisation so there are people rising up through the ranks and able to take on those roles in the board setting. Welcome to the third series of conversations in development, a podcast about challenges, life stories and experiences in the development sector. I'm Peter Mason, your host and CEO of Cufa, an international development agency, working across the Asia Pacific region. In this special episode, I have the honour to speak with two inspiring women in the development sector. Amanda Young, the former CEO of First Nations Foundation, and Atlantic Fellow; and Chris Franks, the chair of Women in Aid and Development, the chair of Results International, and a member of Cufa's IDWG Working Group.

 

Chris F

Pleasure to be here.

 

Amanda Y

And me.

 

Peter M

So Amanda, and tell us a little bit about your work at First Nations, so the audience gets to understand who you are and what you do.

 

Amanda Y

I'd love to talk to you about First Nations Foundation. I am no longer with them, but I was their CEO for five years until the end of 2019. It's a national financial well being organisation and it started about 16 years ago with a real focus on financial literacy. And over the period of time, Indigenous Australians have started to move further along the wage and wealth spectrum. So while there are still rather alarming statistics, which we part of what we do is also research, we've discovered that nine in ten indigenous people have no financial security, and nearly one in two is in severe financial hardship. Notwithstanding that there are still Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have moved into the middle class and are earning decent wages, but we were also hearing that many of them were not flourishing, and would have low resilience to financial shocks. So we started to shift our focus from financial literacy to financial well being, how to create that safety buffer for you as an indigenous person. As you can probably appreciate Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people were not allowed to participate in the economy until, really didn't start until 1970. And no one stopped to think, we should probably teach some information about this economy that we've kept Aboriginal people out of, Aboriginal people weren't allowed to own land and property. In fact, most weren't receiving wages in their own hands, wages were being paid to the government.

 

Peter M

Thank you. Okay, Chris, to start with, what I'd love to talk about is Women in Aid and Development and why you founded that organisation.

 

Chris F

Well, coming from my patchwork quilt background, I've worked in commercial and corporate areas, and I just became aware that the focus that was on women started probably 20 years ago in thinking about women getting into leadership roles. And so it just seemed to me that there was a gap, and the gap comes because in international development, there is such pressure that every single dollar has to go through to the beneficiary at the other end, and anything in administration is a waste and shouldn't be spent. And of course administration is people salaries, you know, the ability to put a uniform on your child's back. And if you work in a charity, why shouldn't you be able to do that, but it does mean that there are far fewer funds going into professional development. So that means that women don't get the same opportunities and hands up and access to information that is in the corporate and the commercial sector. So I thought, well, I've got access to a lot of this. Why don't I set up a website so that people can get to it, and I can send it around to people I know, and that we've been really trying to get out information for women, because knowledge is power. And there is so much that you can give women in how do you apply for a job, how do you prepare a good CV? What can you expect in an interview? How do you go about finding the right role for you? And I, you know, if you're in programmes now, should you be thinking about fundraising later? If you're in finance? Well, have you thought about doing something completely different in compliance area?

 

Peter M

So Amanda, you're a female CEO of a domestic NGO? What's your experience of that sector? Not just from a management perspective, but also from the board's perspective? What's your experience in the domestic not for profit sector?

 

Amanda Y

My experience in the domestic nonprofit sector is that predominantly the work being performed at the grassroots was overwhelmingly female. As you move through the race, the higher up you get, the more it starts to thin out with females. And invariably, they would be men at the top of the tree. Not always, I've seen some stunning successes and examples of women in leadership role there. But what I would say is that, I've seen women with such frustration with wanting to see change, become founders of what are generally very precarious, low resource, high headwind organisations where they just needed to be in the lead role, needed to be able to assume control, and so the only way that they could do it was to create it themselves. And there's a plethora of those, of course, I think we all know there's something like 54,000 charities in Australia, which is just a staggering number of 25 million people. I have some fairly, I think, pretty informed views as to why that is, but in the indigenous space, specifically, that it was really interesting, where there was female leadership. They were such strong organisations, powerful organisations and highly responsive organisations that met their beneficiary need.

 

Peter M

So we've talked about the international not for profit space, we've talked a little bit about the domestic not for profit space. I think it's time we talk about the for profit space and what's happening there. Amanda, we recently had a conversation in relation to the latest data that came out. Tell us about the issues that are now arising with women actually going backwards in the boardrooms in ASX and the for profit space.

 

Amanda Y

Yeah, we're looking for me I'm a bit of a bystander, but I couldn't help but notice the media that came out a couple of weeks ago. So we're talking September, August about the report by Chief Executive women, which is a paid body which does wonderful work very similar to what Chris does, building the skills, the opportunities, the confidence of women who want to be in executive placements, and they researched just released recently showed that there were only 10 female CEOs of ASX 200 companies, and that's the lowest since the census began. They started the census four years ago. So what we're seeing is that incorporate Australia, we're going backwards. only one board director appointed in the last year was a female on the ASX 200, which is you know, 200 companies of immense resources and only one was appointed. The key issue is that there's a lack of women in the chief financial officer role, or in those role lines, and those positions are responsible for profit and loss, and they tend to be the ones that ascend to the CEO and the board roles. But there seems to be a dearth of women in that space for reasons we have to probably unpack and explore, but of course, in the for profit centre, those are key skills and key attributes and key competencies. So you know, with a rare example of shemara Wikramanayake, who's the CEO of Macquarie Bank, she's been there since 2018, and people like Sally Loane, who's the CEO of the financial services Council, we don't see that many women. And in fact, we often see many leaving the board, even when they do find positions, such as a AMP on a 21 of 193 member states of the United Nations have a female head of state as well. We've got a fairly universal pattern happening here in international, national and nonprofit and for profit, that women are not ascending.

 

Chris F

I would actually take a slight counter to that, I accept Absolutely what you're saying there. It's absolutely abysmal that there are not more women in those roles and being promoted. But I see the green shoots of change and I think some organisations like Macquarie group are doing fantastically and they're really working hard to get women into those Profit and Loss responsible type roles that we'll see take them forward, and there are some that are still recalcitrant, and have no one on those boards. Certainly through my contacts through non executive director groups, there are more organisations now that are demanding. Any recruitment company has to provide a list that has women and men on it there. Certainly recruitment companies are far more focused on making sure good women are on their books and put forward, there is still the issue that there is a long way to go. I've always been very keen on making sure I bring women in and trying to get that gender parity position, but what can happen is you can lose two women, because they're changing roles, they've just got more to do family responsibilities, and then all of a sudden, you've gone from a very good position to a very poor position quite quickly. So I think it's shocking, that we can see what happened at the UN this week at the General Assembly, but there are 21, and if we look back a few years, there were probably zero. And I think that's the thing that we have to be aware of, we've got to keep pushing, we've got to keep advocating, we've got to keep helping women, to see the opportunities that are there. And women are definitely stepping up to take those roles.

 

Amanda Y

it's great to hear that you can see the green shoots, that's really interesting, but at the current trajectory, while there's been incremental growth, it's certainly nowhere near acceptable. And one of the things that's really interesting for me is that there's also not just a lens of gender here, but I also you know, operate in the space of race, as well. And when I hear phrases like got the best skills, the most suited, that's when I can see other cultural elements playing out, and the western concept of what is an ideal candidate, and what an ideal skill set is, is quite different to a diverse and a different cultural lens that others will bring to it. So being a woman of colour trying to move forward in this space, I can certainly say that you do come across, you come across the sort of static of how the Westerner wants you to behave and what your cultural values are, where there's a dissonance piece, and trying to find a navigate that to a place where people will perceive you to add value is quite the challenge. It's so interesting also, have you ever come across this thing, particularly in development, I want to jump to, the effect of volunteerism being a real challenge for people who are not Western, even females, let's just deal with females, females who are not white and have you know financial security behind them. So they're in a position to be able to volunteer. The flow on from that is that you're expected them to participate in the voluntary in an unpaid way. You should see the chair at First Nations Foundation, the current one is on I think 17 boards, because he is being asked to help with everything. And so for women, that's a particularly challenging space, because there are so many financial responsibilities. And then if you add women of colour to that, it becomes even more challenging, because we're still trying to claw our way out of the yoke of colonial interference, and still trying to get to a place of financial security, and finding a way of creating that sort of capital and wealth buffer around us so that we can start to give back.

 

Chris F

I guess I'm really embedded in that sector so much that that's the expectation, you don't get paid for it, and there are very few organisations that have the capacity to pay, and that goes back to what I was talking about before. The expectation of donors that every single dollar will go to the beneficiary which I reject completely, you have to run organisations efficiently with good accountability and good transparency, and that costs money. And anytime we want to talk about that I can talk absolutely underwater on it, It's a big passion of mine. So I think that that's probably the biggest piece, I think that there will be a change to some degree. I think one of the things that has stopped people being able to participate is that they can't travel there, they can't get the time, it costs money to go into state or whatever. To be honest, I think the bigger issue is family, women still take the biggest part of care for their family, for their children, and until we get to a position that there is far more parity in sharing the family responsibilities, that's when we're going to get more women able to participate in my view. And we've had a really interesting transition this year, we made sure that we had child friendly spaces We welcome children. But our meetings were post work that is the most popular time and in changing this year to presenting online through zoom, and numbers have gone up massively up to 200 on one of the occasions now, that's just amazing. We're blown out of the water. Why? Because we're talking to women, and they find it really hard not to be in their home at that time of the evening, that they really are far better off, if they can be feeding their child at the same time, they're participating that having so many children as part of the events has just been fantastic, and of course, we've also got a lot of women from around the world who can now join in. So that's really, really interesting that, you know, we're an organisation that have been focused on women, and we were really unaware of the amount of women who are excluded for that reason. And I think the other thing that's made a big change this year is that more men are at home, actually seeing what the obligations are around childcare, and are participating more early indication is that they are doing more.

 

Peter M

Can I take you back to the volunteering aspect, because just listening to the conversation, Cufa has just gone through the volunteer process, and all but one of the applicants were female. I'm just wondering if anyone has any sense of the parity in the volunteer sector?

 

Chris F

Yes, more women than men tend to volunteer, and to some degree that's also related to age with older people having a bit more time to volunteer. Perhaps Amanda's got good insight there.

 

Amanda Y

I've come across a 2019 report that does say females are more likely to volunteer the males, b ut there's also an age demographic thing about that as well. And that is that when you get older in life, women outlive men.

 

Peter M

The reason why I wanted to talk about that was Amanda, linking back to that director organisation that I think I know what you were talking about. I've also joined that organisation. I've just finished their programme, their director competency programme, and I've got to say I was a little bit shocked with the way that they treated gender equity in terms of how they see it, and basically do a policy and monitor it. That was their whole answer to that. And I wonder, you know, is it not the board's responsibility to also be involved in working out? How do you lift women up within the organisation, so there are people rising up through the ranks and able to take on those roles in it and a board setting. There just doesn't seem to be any connection between, okay, we want gender parity, but we're not willing to put in the resources or any attention to the operations of how you do that.

 

Amanda Y

I had the experience of going through the training programme with board directors who either aspirant or existing and some flatly rejected the need for gender balance, or targets, and did it on the basis of male lens of what meritocracy was. So I do know that that company, that member organisation has had some fantastic people working for them agitating internally to try and push this agenda along a little bit more, but it is moving far too slowly for my life, and so I've heard with my feet and my wallet.

 

Chris F

Look, I think again, one of the things and I agree with you, it is so common that you will go to an event or a course and you will see the older male participants expressing fossilised views. The key is again, one of the green shoots that I see is the focus now on unconscious bias, and that goes across females and gender and racial background and culture, a whole range of things. I see that as a real potential in terms of getting organisations and the people within the organisations to actually understand when they look at a recruitment, when they look at how they're recruiting, that they understand what bias they're building into that process. You know, number one, are you making this a full time role? Well, that has a bias in it against women who are going to have children or as you've said, somebody who's already got a lot of other commitments in their life, a lot of other volunteering roles. People quite like to do part time or job share. It would be really great for men to be able to have part time as well, so they can share the parenting of their children. There are again lots of opportunities in terms of looking at how we're going to structure the role. I applaud someone like Gail Kelly, who was CEO of Westpac, fabulously interesting background bought up twins, when as the CEO of Westpac. Now, she's probably got a little financial support there, but we should be able to support all women to take those roles and to take those steps and to support all women of culture.

 

Peter M

So are you saying, Chris, that we need more role models?

 

Chris F

We do.

 

Peter M

I mean, that one comes to mind because it was so obvious, but I'm struggling, I gotta say, I'm struggling to look at other role models.

 

Chris F

Well, you're gonna have to read Julia Gillad's book, the one that she's just done with the amazing woman leader from Africa, whose name I can't pronounce. That's got a whole lot of women talking about the barriers in there that they've experienced on the way through to leadership, and there are some amazing women in that book. One of the initiatives that I think is really exciting in that area, is that when we look at conferences and events, like the UN General Assembly, there is a group of men who will now not speak on a panel or in a group unless women are on that panel. And they've been a couple of high profile men, one from Atlassian, I think, who basically said, No, I'm not going to join, I'm stepping down, and you have to put a woman because there are a lot of capable women who need to be on this panel. That is an important piece so that when you actually hear the voices of women coming back to you, as peers, as leaders, as women who've stepped up that's important,

 

Peter M

But it's a self awareness. How many of us men have that self awareness?

 

Chris F

Well, the key is that we need people out there who actually say, when you see the panel come up on your professional network, that you go back, and you say, this is not okay. I know you, Peter, can you go back and advocate and you as a person go and advocate as well. And I think that that's something, it is really important, and something we've seen in women in development, we have 99.9% women speakers, why? Because the conversation is different. When you have women leading a discussion, then when you have men leading a discussion, and my observation is that when there is woman leading, there are far more conversations that women will enter into, questions are asked, engagement with the speaker, willingness to share their experience. Whereas if a man is at the front, and showing how capable, competent and expert they are, just like the women do, but there is a reluctance for women to be as engaged in that conversation, because it's a bloke. I don't know quite why, but there is more hesitation, more reluctance. And that's why we focus on women and putting women up there, not necessarily women who are all CEOs and directors, women who are volunteers, her interns her in the middle of their careers, because they are absolutely fantastic role models, too. That's really, really important. So it's got to be everywhere, and we're all responsible, we all got to put our hand up, we've all got to say this is not good enough. And this is what we want, and I think that there are voices out there who are encouraging women now to do much more about putting their hand up and making the change and demanding the change.

 

Amanda Y

Can I talk about what happened a couple of, well in the last week or so with Debby Blakey, who's the CEO of HESTA. And what happened was an astonishing demonstration of how power is changing in Australia. Remember how Rio Tinto destroyed the Juukang caves, the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia and that has now led to parliamentary inquiry. HESTA is an investor in the mining campaign that borughtthis destruction. And so they put a submission not only into the parliamentary inquiry, but also started to agitate as investors and say, no, this is not okay because it is risky behaviour and what did we see ultimately happen in a company that is a major multinational, with a male CEO, that he was pushed out of his role because of this advocacy, by I would consider a really great example of a female leader, executive leader advocating along the right values aligned with what her members wants and needs are, and changing the face of how not only risk is managed in an investment sense, but to also start to understand that in a climate change environment, that these are going to be increasingly looming issues. She really did take it up to them, and it took great courage when you consider that really, the stake was Australian investors was probably only 20% of the overall investment pool in that company. But that was successful in pushing off with the leadership to say you're not aligned with what we consider our values to be.

 

Peter M

That's a great example of actual change, or the way we look at things.

 

Chris F

Yeah, I think there's a change in the way that discussion is held. Certainly, I've been a director for over 20 years now, and in that time, I've seen the debate evolved from being male, aggressive, very interrupting, very focused on the issue and no broader or a little broader view at times of the stakeholders to being far more polite, respectful, considerate, listening, and broader.

 

Peter M

So Chris, you said, you've been on board for 20 odd years? Have you been in a situation where you've been the only woman on the board? And what was that like in comparison to perhaps now with boards that are a little bit better represented with women,

 

Chris F

I think only once for a very short period, but my knowledge from peers who've been in that situation is that you're a bit like a shag on a rock, you know, it's a tough position to be when you're the only woman and you do tend to be not listened to in the same way, and really not able to move the discourse dramatically. You need at least a couple of women to actually get that happening, and ideally, you need gender parity, funnily enough, half and half. Conversations we have in the community, in our homes in our not for profit organisations everywhere. They are different conversations when there are men and women putting their points of view forward, and it should be no different in a boardroom, in my view.

 

Peter M

Amanda, when you were running First Nations, what was the gender parity like on that board?

 

Amanda Y

At First Nations, we were very proud of the fact that we were 80% female indigenous and 20%, male, the chair was male, and the CEO was female. So it was a wonderful balance, because really, when it comes down to it's surprising how much when it comes to economics you know. Women tend to be the ones who are leading in this financial space or made eminent sense for Indigenous women to be leading this foundation that talked about financial well being, and to be largely contributing to it based on their deep and profound, we had national members from all across the country. So they brought enormous skills, they brought enormous background in having to navigate a much more latticed approach to money management. And they really helped me as a CEO, because I could always rely on them as a touchstone strategically for me to test anything out about whether or not it will work in the community. And they did that with brilliant clarity. And they often had so many add ons in content and strategy that I was blessed through that role.

 

Peter M

bringing this conversation around in terms of a full circle. We've talked about the need, and we've talked about the challenges. But what do we need to do in the not for profit space to encourage or to lift up women within the sector, but also outside of the sector to get that participation. Also noting that most not for profit boards are volunteer boards. In saying that, a lot of not for profits are the jumping off point for people to go into paid boards as well. What do we do as a sector to encourage that, not only within our organisations, but in general?

 

Chris F

I think this sector is doing really well and I think we've got to acknowledge that. When you look at our statistics compared with those produced by the Workplace Gender Advocacy Group, we are doing great. You know, we have senior managers, we've got about 63% compared to 31% in the corporate sector, we've got 40% of CEOs and directors as opposed to 17%. In the corporate sector, we've got 43% of boards that are female compared to 26%, and chairs or presidents of 25% compared to 14%. So all of those statistics are good taking into account that we do have a much bigger preponderance of women in this sector, so we should have more there. One of the things you said that is really important is that not for profit boards are seen as a jumping off point for corporate boards, it's not always true, but there is a lot of competition out there. We are just about to launch mentoring programme, we've had something like 90% of our previous speakers already sign up, so we're about to launch that. We are going to be launching director training next year to try and encourage women who are interested in that step, we'll be appointing an observer to our board. We're a new board, so we've taken 18 months to get ourselves organised but someone who's interested, we will take them in, and we will have them observe, and be part of all of our discussions every year to again learn really what that is, and hopefully help somebody then into a board role. And you know, I talk about just women, but we also have a lot of women with different cultural backgrounds within the organisation as well. And we really want to encourage both aspects of that.

 

Peter M

That's a really interesting point, as you were talking, I was wondering about the cultural aspect, you said you had quite a lot of Indigenous women on the board. So those paths might be a little bit different to the ones you're dealing with.

 

Amanda Y

I think the first one really though, is my first point is reframe your thinking. And that is where that cultural piece does play out. It's about seeing it as an opportunity, seeing the opportunity that women and diverse people will bring to boards. And for you as the dominant paradigm to bring your unconscious to the conscious, to be aware that everybody is kind of the same age, notice how old the United States, you know, presidents are about male and 65 years of age, it seems a fairly consistent thing. But bringing your own behaviours to the conscious and start to realise that there are different ways and embracing and open yourself up to that, that's three quarters of the challenge. Once you can do that, and you can even say I don't understand indigenous culture, I don't understand Indian culture, I don't understand these things, but I'm open to learning them. That's the battle done already, because when you open it, that is where the learning and the exchange takes place. So when I'd say reframe your thinking to once a consciously resource, the pipeline, which is exactly the work that Krishna wonderful organisation and others are doing, you resource the opportunities, you do the skills development, you build the confidence of people, and you have to also design it with flexibility. The third thing I'd say is you have to lock in a commitment, I feel that I do not want to wait any longer for this to be more balanced, for it to happen by natural processes. I feel as though it's quite clear all the evidence shows that targets work. In fact, nothing else has. And then finally, I think that their amplification piece, and Chris was talking about it where you build your mentorship. So women who've done this mentor other women and we continue to build that pipeline, but we feed and amplify the knowledge is the way that you turn those skills inward and outward to propel it forward.

 

Peter M

You mentioned that we need to open up space. But there are some structural changes that need to be made as well. Chris, you talked about having children taking career breaks, how do you change that narrative to make it okay? And to be able to enable women to come back into the workforce and to take out where they left off, rather than having to catch up?

 

Chris F

Look, I think that that's absolutely true. I think it's vital that women remain connected, and women in development is one way to do that, and we have a lot of women who are on maternity leave who are dipping in. But it's really important for organisations and there are some very good programmes that are being instituted now, where a senior person, usually it's the management senior level so that you remain strategically and operationally aligned, you will go in on a regular basis for a couple of hours, you'll meet up with your peers who participate in a meeting. So you can actually continue with the organisation as it moves along the track because no organisation is static. You can't drop out for a year, 18 months and then drop back in and expect to be on top of it, and that's a huge disincentive for women to go back. You know, that's why a lot of women when they go back in, they take a much lower rate Because they've lost the momentum of the organisation, and they've lost a little confidence in their ability to actually step back in at that very high pressure level. You know what I'm saying that, that we need that for women, we need that for men. That is the biggest change if we can let men do all those things to and not be seen, as you know, wimps and dropping out and, you know, and somewhat lesser, which is absolutely vital for them to participate with their children and their family.

 

Peter M

Well, thank you so much, Chris and Amanda, for joining us in this very special episode.