Taking a Pledge for Balanced Panels: Women’s Leadership Institute Australia and GenderAvenger 

We are writing to you as proud GenderAvengers.

Thank you for the wonderful work that you do to elevate the voices of women. You provide important day-to-day inspiration for the work we do here in Australia as part of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia.

I know that you encourage us to share our stories, so I have decided to share with you some of the work we are doing in partnership with others.

Male Champions of Change

Male Champions of Change

About two years ago, we worked with a group of 25 of Australia's most senior male leaders in business who are committed to stepping up beside women to create a more gender equal world — they’re called the Male Champions of Change. Australia’s outgoing Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick established the group, which is led by herself and Janet Menzies.

Our Founding Chair, Carol Schwartz AM encouraged the Male Champions of Change to take the Panel Pledge, which they did in August 2013. This idea was inspired by Rebecca Rosen’s article in The Atlantic about the tech sector in the US. 

Whenever they were asked to participate on panels, the men asked about how the organizers were ensuring the voices of women were included in the conversation. For example, they asked how many women were on the panel with them and how gender diverse the conference program was overall.

Here at the Women's Leadership Institute Australia, we have a database of female leaders called Women for Media that we point journalists and conference organizers towards. We also provide advice and assistance to them. This was working well, although there was still some resistance — the usual reasons that are given kept coming up.

Still, when the leaders asked the question and sometimes refused to participate due to a lack of gender diversity, wonderful women were then added to panel. The Male Champions of Change started to see how, by asking one simple question, they could make a difference.

Recently on August 25th, in front of a group of 800 leaders and more than 125 CEOs, one of the Male Champions of Change, Andrew Stevens (former CEO of IBM Australia and New Zealand), asked all leaders to take the Panel Pledge.

We launched a Panel Pledge toolkit for leaders, companies and conference organizers to use in order to commit to the panel pledge and ensure gender balance on panels and at conferences. The toolkit and this letter were created in partnership with Chief Executive Women and the Male Champions of Change and is now being sent to companies and other organizations in Australia, urging both men and women to commit to the Panel Pledge.

We already have another 50 male CEOs who have formally signed up from our state of Victoria — the men in elite sports and an important group of leaders in the property sector. Our media has run multiple articles, some of Australia's most important conference organizers have also come on board to set targets, and we've been fielding calls from organizers looking for women to speak at conferences all week. 

We are starting to see things shifting. The excuses are fading away and the momentum is building. The work that’s been happening across the world has contributed to this!

Anyway, we just wanted to share how things are going in Australia at the moment. Our video on the Panel Pledge is here and an excerpt from the media below.

Thank you for all of your support, and I hope this might provide inspiration in the way you have provided inspiration to us.

Kind regards,

Amy Mullins | Executive Director
Women's Leadership Institute Australia

From the Australian Financial Review:

At a Male Champions of Change lunch on August 25, former IBM managing director, Andrew Stevens, said the panel pledge had to apply to internal and external speaking events.
"Fifty-fifty [gender balance] needs to be stipulated in 100 per cent of cases," he said.
"The panel pledge forces people to confront their personal role in contributing to gender inequality and to take personal responsibility for making change and doing something about it."
"By taking action, you'll not only be stimulating and balancing and developing better outcomes on the panels themselves, but you will create a virtuous circle, which is encouraging more and more opportunities for women to speak and, in doing so, will lead to a normalization of women as authoritative figures...”
Mr. Stevens said that only the previous week, he had been on a gender-balanced panel, with a female chief operating officer, a female director of projects for a major listed company, and a male senior vice president of a global company.
"It was diverse, it was challenging and, yes, fortunately for the audience, we had some disagreement that kept everybody on the edge of their seats," he said.
However, before he had enforced the pledge, the proposed panel had been all-male.


Amy Mullins is Executive Director at Women’s Leadership Institute Australia (WLIA). She leads and manages the institute, including the Women for Media initiative. Amy is also Co-Program Leader of the Property Male Champions of Change.