This is the fifth in a series of blogs by Alison Gaines, Chief Executive Officer, Gerard Daniels. She provides board governance tips for BCCM members.

Last month I spent some hours in conversation with Tom Peters, management guru and author of one the biggest selling books of the 20th century In search of excellence. This book drove many of my generation to reflect on the importance of people to make organisations the best in class. The summary of his message (quoting Wikipedia) was that excellent organisations give more thought to action, culture and empowering people than to strategy and structures. Specifically they exhibit:

  1. A bias for action, active decision making – ‘getting on with it’. Facilitate quick decision making and problem solving tends to avoid bureaucratic control
  2. Close to the customer – learning from the people served by the business.
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship – fostering innovation and nurturing ‘champions’.
  4. Productivity through people- treating rank and file employees as a source of quality.
  5. Hands-on, value-driven – management philosophy that guides everyday practice – management showing its commitment.
  6. Stick to the knitting – stay with the business that you know.
  7. Simple form, lean staff – some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff.
  8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties – autonomy in shop-floor activities plus centralised values.

His ideas are now commonplace in many organisations and many of the characteristics are found in CME’s that are close to members and community and have a clear sense of purpose. He’s been writing ever since and his latest book is the 2018 Excellence Dividend. It again emphasises that putting people first still works and works better than ever. He calls it the extreme humanisation of organisations, that puts employees and customers at the heart of decisions. His other message to Boards and executives is that to succeed organisations should start by promoting women because women’s leadership style suits the new disrupted economy. Like many other commentators he understands the economic imperative for women’s participation – which if fully realised would significantly increase the size of the global economy.

In November 2017 the BCCM launched the findings of the Eliza Project: Gender Inclusion in the CME Sector in Australia. Named after Eliza Brierly, the first woman to become a member of a co-operative, in 1846, it finds that the sector has a way to go to create inclusion in leadership roles for women, and also points to pockets of good practice.

Women make up the majority of employees in the Australian CME sector but not the majority of managers. The higher up the management level the fewer women are found in managerial roles. Of the CME’s where data was available only 3% had women CEO’s (being 2 women for 60 employers). In board leadership roles 15% of the Top 100 CME’s in Australia are chaired by women.

Across the whole CME workforce women tend to be segregated into sales and clerical roles and fewer are in technical, professional and manual and trades roles. The international data shows that segregated workforces put women at high risk of displacement by new technologies. The OECD has identified that Australian girls and women’s low participation in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) as one our top wicked problems to solve to improve gender equality.

The Eliza Project surveyed women and men about women’s work in the CME sector. It provides great reading about the causes and effects of women’s patchy participation (glass ceilings and glass walls). As importantly it gives good advice about people want so they move the number of women in leadership in the CME. Its What People Want headlines can summarised as – firstly, flexible work that allows women to engage in careers and in more senior roles; and secondly, leadership training and sponsorship to move ahead.  

Eleven strategies are recommended for improving women’s inclusion:

Recommendation 1 CME’s should implement programs for organisation-wide cultural change for greater inclusion.

Recommendation 2 Empower middle managers to enact culture change

Recommendation 3 The BCCM should develop a leadership role

Recommendation 4 CME’s should commit to implementing an “all roles flex” policy across the workplace

Recommendation 5 Introduce training for managers to support a flexible workforce

Recommendation 6 Instigate flexible work trials

Recommendation 7 Annual reporting on the number of employees working flexibly

Recommendation 8 Make implementing flexible work arrangements part of management KPI’s

Recommendation 9 Implement practical team scheduling in the office to make it easier for people to work flexibly

Recommendation 10 Put the infrastructure in place to support flexible working

Recommendation 11 Develop sponsorship programs specifically targeted at women

CME’s have a special place in communities and among members and the workforce. Engaging with the diversity agenda will likely build the brand of CME’s as great places to work and join. In the words of Tom Peters “People First still works; People first more than ever”.

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