Why doesn't your CEO want to be part of a gender equity group?

Australia is lagging behind globally in women's work opportunities and the gender pay gap, and Australian companies are still consistently leaving women behind when it comes to leadership. Senior management is flooded with men in most organisations, and financial services are still amongst the worst boys-club offenders. 

Companies leading by example include IBM, Sodexo, and Deloitte, all North American or European companies, because a commitment was made by senior executives to put gender diversity at the top of the priorities list because it's good for business (and life). If the men in charge don't make this change in thinking, neither does gender equity leadership change. 

One of the ways this change starts to happen is in a special sort of group, and in Australia, these groups are called Male Champions for Change (MCC). There is an interesting mix of men, but being a member isn't always a walk in the park. It can be hard to sit down with male peers in your organisation and say, "Let's get more women in here," because there are barriers, and most men don't understand what they are, not really. Especially men in leadership positions, who are arguably the best placed to start a cultural shift towards gender equity at work. This is a great place for change to start, but it's not the easiest for the men involved, who will be required to put their neck out. 

A research project led by Professor Isabel Metz at Melbourne Business School set out to find out why some chief executives join advocacy groups to put gender diversity on the corporate map, and how and why groups - like businesses - could band together to create lasting, deep change. She also discusses why men don't join these groups, or join and then leave. 

So, who are these guys?

MCC was established in 2010 to put women's representation in leadership at the forefront of the national agenda. Chair of the group, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, put together a group of highly influential men - recognised male leaders - and has led the group to use their influence to help create lasting change. That is, get more ladies to the top of the heap.

MCC, in all its state formations, has done some interesting work, like enforcing the 'no women, no work' intervention, which penalised companies and suppliers for not putting gender equity into practice. This 2013 initiative was incredibly bold, but was a step that put gender equity into monetary terms. 

One of the main issues with championing for women's equity in the workplace is it is being done primarily by women, to women. This is all well and good, but the men in charge are traditionally not doing anything much about it. Getting men on board was indeed the smart thing to do, since they are still the ones in charge, in leadership roles, and therefore laying out the cultural framework in many respects. 

The study

Metz figured that since men in leadership roles had no bias, no self-interest, and the credibility to pull it off, that they would have more impact on setting up change and making sure it was followed through. To find out what was going on, Metz interviewed 40 chief executives from MCC groups in five states over the past year. 

The results - it's not what you think

Interestingly, each MCC group was made up of three different types of member: the active supporter, the bystander, and - yes - the resistor. This collection, unsurprisingly, dictated how effective the group was, so the more active supporters in a group, the more got done, but conversely, the more resistors a group had, the less got done. Bystanders are by their very nature neutral in action, though they may have a view either way. 

The group of men who 'window dress' - these are the resistors. Some members were government or other stakeholders, generally the bystanders, but this group also contained quite a few men who had seen gender discrimination in the flesh, but for a handful of reasons, chose to be apathetic. Then, there were the men who had seen gender discrimination in the flesh in their wives and daughters, and were trying to make a difference because they felt it was wrong - the active supporters. 

Why a male executive wouldn't want to join the MCC

Many CEOs were sitting on the fence, with some of their reasons including:

  • 'Gender fatigue'
  • A lack of understanding on the business case for gender diversity
  • The belief that gender inequities are a ‘thing of the past’
  • The fear of disapproval from male peers if they decides to shift the status quo and make a case for change

Metz found that the most successful advocacy groups had a mix of active supporters, bystanders, and sceptics, some of whom became active supporters after understanding the issues further. 

Watching women you care about missing out in life just because they are women can often have a profound impact, but this impact can be thwarted when many men believe that gender issues are a thing of the past, and women can do whatever they want in life without restriction (the bystanders or sceptics). It all comes down to one's personal experience and ideas, all of which are open to be challenged, which is what the MCC is all about. 

Male leaders - as is their job - must, at minimum, investigate the business case for gender diversity. If putting more women at the top of the food chain meant poorer business outcomes, then it would make sense that nobody would do it, but the opposite is known to be true, shown over and over in business cases. 

The business case for gender diversity is no longer up for discussion, but that hasn't stopped organisations completely ignoring the information through lack of understanding of how to implement change and spread it throughout the organisation. Most of the men joining the MCC to investigate the business case for change join as bystanders, but often change their views and end up in an active supporter role when they find out more. Not understanding the true issues is one reason why men aren't actively supporting gender diversity at work. 

The resistors in the interviews were mostly classified as 'passive', and it was largely a stance of ignorance, rather than actively rejecting women in leadership positions. Many men benefit from the status quo, and may feel somewhat threatened by women entering a typically male domain.

It became clear to Metz during the study that the groups do not favour men who are there for the 'wrong reasons' (networking, for example), and resistors were far less likely to be interviewed, or in fact participate in these groups at all, since they can be time consuming and frustrating. 


Being part of a MCC group is hard. Criticism is freely aimed and fired at the participants, and it can be incredibly uncomfortable. The benefits, however, are immense, not only for the men involved (gaining a deeper understanding of an issue that has been staring them in the face their entire lives), but for the women in their teams, the women they love, and their communities at large. 

The success stories Metz shared

“I'm of the view that you need to set targets. … we needed … new [staff] … so I told our people …fifty percent of those have to be female because I knew if I only got one or two they would get, honestly they would eaten alive because of the bad culture.. it helped change the culture… I think having a good balance of gender gives a totally different work environment.” (Interviewee #4)

“We are doing a lot of … gender sensitisation and diversity sensitisation …as a matter of course… we are calling on all unconscious biases and …that’s something that’s very much part of our dialogue now.” (Interviewee #8)

“… the woman that was negotiating with one of her managers … actually said to me the other day that she had the confidence to do that because of what I was doing [being a MCC group member].” (Interviewee #14)

“…we analysed … what the bonus amounts they were being paid and …. what the promotion ratios were. And I, like lots of our exec team, thought ‘oh well, this is just going to prove it’s equal’. It wasn’t. So, if an organisation like ours, that recruits professionals, that operates in a professional environment, has bias in it in terms of women earning less than men in the same job, well god help some of the other organisations. And so that piece of work has allowed us to reduce the gap to next to nothing over a period of a few years, but it does entail continued effort… ” (Interviewee #15)

Who is in the MCC?

According to the MCC website, there are seven MCC groups, with six of those in Australia and one in Japan. Complete lists of all members were not available for all groups.  

  1. Consult Australia
  2. Elite Sports
  3. Institute of Architects
  4. Property Sector 
  5. Queensland-based leaders
  6. Victorian-based leaders
  7. International
  8. Japan
  • Shayne Elliott, ANZ
  • Lieutenant Gen Angus Campbell, Australian Army
  • Elmer Funke Kupper, ASX
  • Ian Narev, CBA
  • Stephen Roberts, Citi
  • Cindy Hook, Deloitte
  • Chris Moraitis, Department of the Attorney General
  • Peter Varghese, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Simon Rothery, Goldman Sachs
  • Gary Wingrove, KPMG
  • John Lydon, McKinsey
  • Paul Anderson, Ten Network
  • Alan Joyce, Qantas
  • Greg Lilleyman, Rio Tinto
  • Andrew Penn, Telstra
  • Michael Spence, University of Sydney
  • Grant O'Brien, Woolworths 


  • John Cain, former Premier of Victoria
  • Glyn Davis, Vice Chancellor, University of Melbourne
  • Chris Eccles, Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • Ahmed Fahour, Managing Director & Group CEO, Australia Post
  • Adam Fennessy, Secretary, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
  • Tony Frencham, Managing Director, Dow Chemical
  • Gareth Goodier, CEO, Melbourne Health
  • Doug Hilton, Director, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
  • George Savvides, Managing Director, Medibank Private
  • Luke Sayers, CEO, PwC Australia
  • Andrew Thorburn, CEO, NAB
  • Rowen Craigie, CEO and Managing Director, Crown Resorts
  • Ben Rimmer, CEO, City of Melbourne
  • Clément Michel, CEO, Yarra Trams
  • Steven Sewell, CEO, Federation Centres
  • Ian Silk, CEO, Australian Super
  • James Fazzino, CEO, Incitec Pivot
  • Peter Hay, Chair, Newcrest Mining
  • Damon Johnston, Editor, The Herald Sun
  • Brian Kruger, CEO, Toll Group
  • Ken Lay, former Chief Commissioner, Victoria Police
  • Gillon McLachlan, CEO, AFL
  • Chris Maxwell, President of the Victorian Court of Appeal

Consult Australia

  • Lara Poloni, AECOM Australia New Zealand Chief Executive
  • Greg Steele (Chair), Arcadis Australia Pacific Chief Executive Officer
  • Peter Bailey, Arup Chair and Chief Executive Officer - Australasia Region
  • James Wright, Beca Managing Director - Australia
  • Max Bomben, Calibre Consulting Managing Director
  • Phillip Duthie, GHD General Manager Australia/New Zealand
  • Hannah Hamling, Golder Associates Managing Director and Principal
  • Mark Bruzzone, MWH Managing Director, Government & Infrastructure, Australia
  • Stuart Fowler, Norman Disney & Young Chief Executive Officer
  • Melvyn Maylin, Opus Managing Director Australia
  • Patrick Hill, Jacobs SKM Group Vice President ANZ Infrastructure & Environment
  • Hari Poologasundram, SMEC Chief Operating Officer, Australia and New Zealand
  • Matt Harris, Rider Levett Bucknall, Managing Director
  • Andrew Mather, WSP I Parsons Brinckerhoff Group Regional Managing Director Asia Pacific

Institute of Architects

  • Joe Agius of Cox Richardson
  • Gary Power of Woods Bagot
  • Ray Brown of Architectus
  • Gerard Corcoran of Hassell
  • Bill Dowzer of BVN
  • Troy Uleman of PTW
  • Adam Haddow of SJB
  • Philip Vivian of Bates Smart


  • Convened by Carol Schwartz AM
  • Peter Allen, Scentre Group
  • Doug Bain, EY (Special Adviser) 
  • Daryl Browning, ISPT 
  • Jonathan Callaghan, Investa Property Group 
  • Stephen Conry, JLL 
  • Stephen Ellis, Knight Frank 
  • Rod Fehring, Frasers Property Australia 
  • David Harrison, Charter Hall Limited 
  • Carmel Hourigan, AMP Capital (Special Adviser) 
  • Bob Johnston, The GPT Group 
  • John Kenny, Colliers International 
  • Steven Leigh, QIC Global Real Estate 
  • Steve McCann, Lendlease 
  • Paul Craig, Savills 
  • Angus McNaughton, Vicinity Centres 
  • Ken Morrison, Property Council of Australia 
  • John Mulcahy, Mirvac 
  • James Patterson, Cushman & Wakefield 
  • Ray Pittman, CBRE 
  • Mark Steinert, Stockland 
  • Darren Steinberg, DEXUS Property Group 

Read the MCC 2015 Progress Report

Download PDF Male Champions of Gender Equity Change