Accelerating business growth through applying balance and diversity

by | Sep 25 2023

Earlier this month, the Chief Executive Women held its second Leadership Summit where each speaker focussed on providing insights and lessons around the theme: “fast tracking change to an equal future”.

According to chair of the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, Sam Mostyn, some learnings in her recent work suggested that “women are exhausted and tired of waiting for the moment when our capacity to lift the economic story has been enabled or celebrated widely enough”. Indeed.

Mostyn offered the thought that we must “put women at the centre of our economy, and deal with the big levers that government can pursue, and this will encourage better corporate behaviour”.

If we can take this insight and consider how it can apply in each and every boardroom – in Australia or around the world – then businesses, and economies, will thrive.

The Summit was absolutely educational and inspiring, but there were also many insights with implications for directors and Boards now and into the future.

These are the three key takeaways from the summit: the similarities between the gender imbalance in the STEM industry and boardrooms and how we can equalise it; the role of behavioural ethics for Boards; and the lessons from creative technology that can be applied in the boardroom.

Gender imbalance in the boardroom: Consider STEM


Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum spoke at the Summit about what the pathways to action might look like for STEM, associated sectors and how it is woefully underrepresented in gender balance.

Strategies that she mentioned, and currently in play include STEM-specific initiatives in schools, gender specific upskilling for roles like scientists and data technologists, (something that is essential for these professions’ survival in the future of work), and recruiting from outside of the industry.

When you apply these initiatives to the boardroom as avenues to building diversity there are many issues and opportunities to consider:

  • Leadership initiatives in schools: If we want to see more women in boardrooms, women need to see themselves as leaders from a young age. We know this, but as an industry, are we considering female leadership initiatives as a pathway to get more women serving on boards? We are missing a valuable opportunity as many boardroom diversity initiatives don’t consider building leadership capabilities for women of school-age or emerging young adults.
  • Gender upskilling: This is already happening, but not enough and not fast enough. We must find ways to bolster upskilling for professional women as this is not just a gender issue, it’s also a future-fit board issue. We need diverse boards ready to steer companies for the changes that are coming.
  • Recruiting from outside the industry: Zahidi discussed the push to recruit from outside STEM and bring leaders who weren’t born into the industry into management. This also enables more diversity of thought – a crucial concept for boardrooms. Does everyone need a linear line to the boardroom? The short answer is no.

Zahidi noted during her presentation that in the next five years, 23 percent of all jobs will transform. Technology, digitalisation and sustainability are driving the most changes in business.

A lot of the fastest declining roles, globally, have often had a disproportionate number of women in them, so to provide balance in business in the future we have to stop this ‘drop to the top’. Professions in STEM are critical and typically not overweighted with women.

The same can be said for boardrooms.

With the STEM industry as one case study, there are many tips boards should pay attention to, to ensure boardrooms reach diversity targets, think outside the box for the less traditional board feeder roles, and boards are future-fit.


Behavioural ethics is revolutionising ethics

Dr Peter Collins, principal at The Nous Group reminded us of the need for ethics to be framing everything we do, and this is particularly pertinent for boards.

He discussed behavioural ethics, which has various impacts for boardrooms. He also brought up the concept of ethical phasing, which means that under stress, ethical decision-making can fade. Collins believes we should enable boards and management to be as skilled in behavioural ethics as they are in strategy and governance. In his world of ethics study, it is behavioural ethics that is revolutionising ethics in general.

Boards need to be doing the right things day-in and day-out with regard to diversity and equality until the scourge of discrimination is no longer the bane of our society and business.

We have to consider the decisions we make on behalf of the people who aren’t sitting around the table and ensure they are free of our own personal views. This is at the heart of the S in ESG, and critical for directors to not just consider, but act upon, and we each must advocate for a behavioural lens on the boards and companies we serve.

Creative Technology


Artificial intelligence, nano technology, immersive technology, quantum computing are all here and building fast. It’s almost impossible to predict every precise impact for companies, but as board directors we have to consider future impacts and how to anticipate them.

AI has been in our lives for decades, but we rarely noticed it and now it has many cultural, behavioural and ethical impacts. Boards need to help their companies navigate the wonderful enabling opportunities it provides while also ensuring it’s utilised with social conscience and acknowledgment of the risks as well as the benefits.

Katherine Boiciuc, digital transformation lead, Viva Energy was at the Summit and she spoke to the “glass labyrinth in the middle of technology jobs, where you can’t find a way in or out”.

She stressed that we need an enormous number of people to step into AI-changed roles. Applying a diversity lens to this issue, it’s important that we encourage women in particular to step into leadership and technology roles. This will enable them to stand in front of this tech revolution and lead the tech industry or boardrooms (or both) into this next frontier.

Where to from here?

The final keynote speaker, 2023 Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt said, “Polite persistence breaks down resistance”, which can be applied to directors’ roles.

Push for change, understand what’s coming in technology, predict and model the impacts, and push to ensure your organisation is making the appropriate, forward-thinking changes.

Never forget that balance and diverse thinking is at the forefront of driving better economic outcomes.

The insights shared from the STEM industry, the role of behavioural ethics for boards, and how we can navigate creative tech are all integral to how we can help boards achieve a faster track to parity and inclusion.