Advancing Gender Diversity for Positive Leadership

On Thursday March 1 Fisher Leadership’s Jo Fisher and Mira Bacelj joined Universities Australia Executive Women’s Co-Chairs Professor Kerri-Lee Krause and Professor Marcia Devlin at Universities Australia’s 2018 Higher Education Conference in Canberra to launch UAEW’s new Best Practice Recruitment Guidelines to Fast Forward the Advancement of Women in Australian University Executive Appointments.

The Guidelines provide an in-depth explanation about the issues and recommended actions to address on-going gender bias in senior executive appointments, including the need for more gender neutrality in role profiles, unconscious bias training for selection committee members and consideration of leadership potential in making appointment decisions.

“The barriers to achieving gender balance in the executive leadership of universities in Australia are well known and yet progress remains slow. A university without gender balance in its executive ranks is unlikely to optimise the intellectual or cultural environment for students. If the higher education sector is to be a serious change agent for women in leadership, systematic structural change will be necessary. The UAEW guidelines are a welcome resource to help universities embed effective organisational measures that have the potential to make a real difference.”

Helen Bartlett, Vice-Chancellor, Federation University Australia

Fisher Leadership was asked to contribute our time and experience to help develop this important new initiative, drawing on the insights and advice of many leading academics and human resource experts in the sector, whose assistance was invaluable.

The Guidelines provide a step-by step checklist covering issues to be considered and actions that should be taken at the preparation, attraction, selection, appointment and integration stages of the recruitment process. These address the important cultural barriers and biases that continue to make it more difficult for women, as well as non-Anglo and physically disabled people to be chosen for leadership roles. Experience has shown that these can only be overcome by:

  • raising awareness of the need for and benefits of more diverse leadership teams
  • ensuring gender and culturally neutral language in role descriptions that consider cultural as well and technical needs
  • broadening criteria to attract step-up candidates and emphasising capabilities to favour potential over experience
  • highlighting organisational commitment to diversity, encouraging candidates from within and allowing time for passive candidates to come forward
  • providing unconscious bias training for all involved in recruitment and selection process
  • including suitably qualified women and men in equal numbers in panels
  • supporting inexperienced candidates to make their case as strongly as possible and offering positive feedback to those who are unsuccessful.

As revealed by a recent study title Increasing the diversity of senior leaders in Higher Education: the role of Executive Search firms by Professor Simonetta Manfredi, Professor Lucy Vickers and Emily Cousens, engaging Executive Search firms who follow best practice makes a significant contribution to the achievement of gender equality and other diversity targets. The quality of their networks – including international networks – and ability to both encourage and coach suitable candidates to apply are important factors in ensuring a balanced shortlist. They can also provide critical support in terms of gender bias training and ensuring gender neutrality across all points of engagement.

Fisher Leadership is proud to have contributed so much to the creation of this practical and freely available publication, which is relevant not only to decision makers in the Higher Education sector but to all those responsible for meeting diversity targets in social impact organisations. We aim to build on this initiative in the months to come to highlight and promote positive case studies and key insights to support all those striving for more balanced recruitment outcomes.

We also welcome opportunities to meet and explain our insights and recommended solutions in depth.