Over a banking career spanning over four decades, Rod Jackson has seen the society and work culture change in front of him. Other than multigenerational workforce, he has also been exposed to several cultures in Europe, Asia and Oceania having held C-suite positions for at least twelve years now. The verticals he was overseeing were also broad based and included financial services, recruitment and e-commerce.
Having recently retired from executive life, he is now focusing on a new innings of his career as a director. Currently, he is on the board of Australian banking giant Westpac. Throughout his career, Jackson has been a great proponent of the concept of gender equality at the workplace. He talks to Women Icons Network about the importance of workforce gender diversity for organisations, how male colleagues and management can help nurture the talents of women employees.
Any company can demonstrate its commitment to diversity and inclusion within its folds through visible actions and metrics, believes Rod Jackson. These can be in the form of female leadership targets, flexible workplace policies, generous maternity leave, celebrating International Women’s Day, internal female forums for networking and skills development and many more.
He thinks that every workplace must provide flexibility to allow women to manage work and family commitments, keeping in mind that women often bear a higher responsibility of the family. “To retain the best talent, we must support, and nurture women having families and provide them a pathway back into the workforce,” he states. Companies must also insist all recruitment short lists have at least one female candidate, he adds, to ensure that proactive steps are taken to recruit women with the skills required.
Talking about Westpac’s diversity and inclusion practices, Jackson shares, “We set targets for the percentage of women in the top three management layers of the company. The ultimate aim was to reach the 50:50 ratio over a period of four years, which we achieved.” He adds that appointment of women in key leadership areas, in roles other than the traditional HR function also helped.
“Empathy and understanding,” pat comes the reply when he is asked what qualities are essential for a good leader.
He recalls an incident from a few years ago when a female colleague was spoken to harshly and unfairly by a male colleague. The incident caused her offence and embarrassment. “I was present in the meeting as a senior executive. My role was to calm the situation at hand first. More importantly, I decided to counsel the man involved on appropriate behavior towards female colleagues,” he shares. This, he says, not only ensured that the woman wasn’t uncomfortable for long, but also prevented the man from repeating those actions.
Along with this, Jackson believes that mentoring and sponsorship are vital for career progression, and all leaders must spend time and effort on this task. They can provide support in terms of encouragement, sharing ideas, networks and even scripting job interviews.
Jackson has mentored several people junior to him, many of whom were women. He has made consistent efforts to bring more women into the board room as he believes that gender diversity brings different perspectives to the same subject. Often, the best views are from those that are not as outspoken in a board meeting, he adds.
This makes men’s role as allies towards the causes of women empowerment and gender equality even more important, he believes. “Given the dominance of men at executive and board positions, it is incumbent on men to take a leadership stance in ensuring women are proactively considered, mentored, coached, and most importantly, are given the confidence they can do the job and will be supported,” he says.
Like in any instance of diversity, as the dominant element, it is vital that men listen carefully and seek clarification where alternative views are provided, thinks Jackson. He believes that it is equally important that everyone is allowed or asked to speak up. “Many women impose unrealistic expectations of themselves before they are willing to put themselves forward. Leaders need to identify talent and ensure it is nurtured and encouraged for more senior roles,” he asserts.
Jackson says that the number of female CEOs declined in Australia in the year 2020, insidious issue which he thinks needs to be addressed soon. “In general, the pandemic has hit women harder than men. This is primarily because they outnumber in sectors like airlines, tourism, hospitality, food and beverage and retail which are worst hit,” he informs.
He believes that women will be able to manage leadership jobs more effectively with flexible workplace soon becoming a norm in the post pandemic world. Jackson says that even as all other things fall into the right place, women themselves need to be more willing to take over demanding senior positions.