Posted On March 9, 2016

woman sitting in cafe smiling while working on her business laptop

Despite all this evidence and aspirations for more women in senior leadership positions, progress over the last decade has been slow. In reality, it’s a complex topic that’s easier to talk about in theory than it is to implement.

So we turned to leadership coach Fiona Craig to shed some light on the subject. Fiona specialises in human behaviour and maximising people’s strengths – particularly the advancement of women in the workplace. Her unique perspective comes from her background as a corporate lawyer and working in people–related professional services roles for over 20 years.

Fiona recently joined us to speak about Next-Generation Diversity: Developing tomorrow’s women leaders at one of MCI Solutions’ popular breakfast seminars. Fiona shared key challenges faced when building a diverse and sustainable pool of leaders and the opportunities that can help women move effectively into leadership roles. Here’s our summary.

There’s more gender disparity than you might think

Even in the 21st century, women have a lot of catching up to do. ANZ Bank recently released a white paper entitled The 2015 ANZ Women’s Report: Barriers to Achieving Financial Gender Equity highlighting the inequalities women face at different stages of their lives. A compelling read, Fiona pointed out a sobering statistic from the paper that’s hard to reconcile.

“They’ve worked out that over a lifetime, over a career, a woman can earn up to $700,000 less than a man in the same job. $700,000. Who thinks that’s acceptable?” she said.

So how long will it take for pay parity? In a talk at the 2014 International Dialogue on Women in Leadership event in Queensland, Dame Quentin Bryce revealed that at current rates of change it will take until 2095 for women to reach equality with men. Another 79 years.

“That’s potentially three generations before we get equality if we continue on the current path,”

“and that’s the key,” said Fiona. “It’s about making the shift.”

So what can we do to accelerate the rate of change?

Small steps create positive change

Despite the frightening figures, there are signs we are moving in the right direction and positive changes are afoot.

In 2010, Elizabeth Broderick, the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner from 2007 to 2015, set up Male Champions of Change with a group of 12 male CEOs. The philosophy of the group was to do everything within their power in their large organisations to shift the gender imbalance. To date, they’ve introduced a wide range of policies.

David Thodey, Telstra’s ex-CEO, was one of the original Male Champions of Change. He made sure every role in Telstra became flexible in some way. It’s had very positive results.

“In some of their departments, they’ve seen the applicant talent pool increase by up to 35 percent as a result of doing that,” says Fiona.

More recently, the Premier of Queensland, Anastasia Palaszczuk, announced she’s aiming for 50 percent equal representation of men and women on all state-owned corporation boards in Queensland by 2020. And that’s not so far away.

Five trends causing disruption of the status quo

Fiona has sat across the table from hundreds of women who have shared their feelings about what they’re getting, what they’re not getting and what they want from their work.

She’s learnt about the issues and trends affecting a wide variety of professional women today and gathered insights into what they really want.

Fiona sees five key trends impacting on organisations and making gender diversity a hot topic.

Women entrepreneurs – Women are starting businesses at twice the rate of their male counterparts and leaving the corporate world in droves. This presents a massive loss of intellectual property from the business and most of it is never coming back. A shining example is one of Fiona’s friends who left a top leadership role in a large global company to focus on her side business. Why? Because her private business income was double what she was earning in her corporate job and it gave her more ownership, flexibility and income. This need for flexibility and “captaining your own ship” is becoming more and more common.
The personal brand – “It’s really important to look after your own brand now,” said Fiona. “For employers, it’s both a potential benefit and a negative. If someone’s got a great brand, they’re more likely to get poached, but a great personal brand can have a very positive impact on the corporate brand as well.”
Innovation – There’s massive disruption in today’s marketplace. You only have to look at what’s happening in the taxi or accommodation sectors to see it first hand. “It’s important for organisations to be creative and innovative to keep their competitive edge,” said Fiona. Sadly, innovation is not a priority in some organisations. They’d rather stick with the status quo because that’s the way it’s always been and change is seen as disruptive and inviting problems.
Globalisation – Globalisation has led to big workplace changes like rationalisation, outsourcing and working from home. Fiona notes, “These trends are impacting an employer’s ability to keep their staff engaged in what they’re doing.”
Salary inequality – “Statistics show that even though we have 25 percent more women in the workforce than we did 30 years ago, the gender pay gap is still hovering around 18.8 percent. In some industries, like financial services, there’s a 35 percent difference between salaries for men and women,” Fiona said.

The key components of a successful gender diversity program

Fiona has noticed that gender diversity programs tend to be very similar, and that’s not really a good thing.

“A lot of organisations are following what other organisations are doing without really thinking if it will work for their organisation, so it results in no real change and, in some cases, going backwards,”

So how do you go about creating effective gender diversity?

Fiona pinpointed three key components of a successful gender diversity program, but they can be applied to any educational program.


“We’re more electronically connected than we’ve ever been,” said Fiona. “But in fact were less connected. You sit on the train and everyone’s staring into their phones. Nobody smiles. Nobody talks.”

According to Fiona, there are three key elements of connection that women are looking for.

  • Connection to business. “Women are tired of being given part of a project but not enough information to understand the bigger picture. Women want to be connected to the business. They don’t want to be siloed into a people role because that’s what women are better at,” she said.
  • Connection to self. Fiona has found that women want to understand their strengths, talents, skills and skill gaps. That way they can plan out the training and development they need to get to the next level.
  • Connection to others. Most women love community. There’s been a massive rise in the number of women-only groups in recent years as they reach out to connect with others in a similar situation for support and friendship.


The second thing women are looking for is recognition. Again, Fiona believes this falls into three categories.

  • Monetary recognition. “We want to be valued and paid well for what we do,” said Fiona. “It’s time for women to start feeling comfortable talking about money. Money is an exchange of value, of showing what you’re worth. If you’re not prepared to ask for what you’re worth then you don’t value yourself properly.”
  • Status recognition. In 2013 McKinsey released its annual Women Matter report on gender diversity in top management,based on a study of senior-level management of both genders. As part of the background research, they asked “Do you aspire to an executive-level role in your organisation?” Eighty-one percent of male and 79 percent of female respondents said yes, indicating that women are just as ambitious as men. However, when asked who felt they had the confidence to go after that role, women scored 15 percentage points lower than their male colleagues.
  • Personal recognition. “We’re looking for that personal satisfaction that we’ve done a good job, that we’re doing the best that we can, that we matter and that we’re making a difference,” said Fiona. “When women have connection and recognition, they feel valued.”


The third thing Fiona believes women (and men) are looking for is choice. And that can be broken down into three areas too.

  • “We want flexibility. Our lives are busy,” Fiona said. “Some organisations, like Telstra, are doing this really well by offering flexible roles. It’s not enough just to have a flexibility policy that sits in the drawer and gathers dust. It needs to be led from the top.”
  • Choice of learning. Learning has changed much over the last few years with the advent of the Internet and on-demand learning. Again we are so busy, we want to make sure that we’re learning in a way that works for us — and that can often mean online.
  • Choice over their future. “It’s not just down to the individual to decide their future,” explained Fiona. “It’s also up to the manager, HR and whoever else is in charge to make sure that they’re having proper career conversations with the individual about the future. That way, people feel invested in the choices that are being made for them.”

The power of three means everyone wins

Fiona believes that when you’ve got all three components at work – connection, recognition and choice – you’ve got a more productive workforce and every worker is more engaged in what they do. A productive and engaged workforce tends to be very loyal to their organisation, and that provides the framework for great innovation, retention, teamwork, brand reputation and much more.


“The key component is trust.” said Fiona. “Connection, recognition and choice together build a massive bank of trust. I think we’ve lost a lot of trust in our organisations and I’d like to see that come back.”

There’s no time like the present

“When you see gender diversity mentioned everywhere there’s a danger you’ll believe you don’t need to do anything about it — that someone else is doing something or there’s no point because it’s just too big a problem and you can’t solve it. But nothing could be further from the truth.”

No one wants to wait 79 years for gender equality. Fiona challenges each of us to think about what we can do in our organisation, now, to help our female workforce become tomorrow’s leaders.

“Give them the opportunity to connect with female peers and mentors, recognise their extraordinary talents and offer them choice throughout their work. Your business will benefit hugely.”

Fiona Craig has spent her entire career in people-related roles within Professional Services, working with hundreds of professional women to help them realise their career dreams. A former corporate lawyer, she brings extensive experience in coaching and training in career development as well as professional recruitment. Her presentations and workshops combine case studies, stories and personal experiences to provide attendees with practical strategies and tools that can be immediately applied by individuals and HR teams alike.

Fiona is an NLP Master Practitioner and Accredited Trainer and Consultant of Extended DISC. She holds a Diploma of Coaching and an LLB (Hons) from the UK’s University of Aberdeen. More information about Fiona’s wide-ranging experience and expertise can be found at