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The Leadership Shadow

It starts with us

Recognising that the path to lasting change starts at the top, a simple model built around the concept of a “Leadership Shadow” has been designed to help leaders understand whether the shadow they are casting is the one they intend.

Australian Industry report, March 2014

How do Australian organisations increase the representation of women in leadership positions? Since 2010 a group of Australia CEOs, led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, have set themselves the task of answering this question. Calling themselves “Male Champions of Change” (MCCs), their first publication in 2011 was styled as an open letter to their Australian business colleagues on their experiences in elevating the representation of women in leadership. That was followed by a 2012 report on the practices they had each introduced in their organisations to accelerate women’s advancement. This current report, undertaken as a collaborative project with Chief Executive Women (CEW), focusses in a very personal way, on a leader’s shadow.

The Shadow model is divided into 4 quadrants, enabling leaders to consider whether what they say, how they act, what they prioritise and what they measure are helping to advance women. The primary goal of the report is to communicate the value of the Shadow, provide examples of how MCCs and CEW have used the Shadow to identify personal point of change, and to motivate other leaders to become more conscious of their shadow – its strength, depth and shape – and take remedial action.



The MCC and CEW were seeking to identify and develop a practical leadership tool to help stimulate significant and sustainable change towards gender balance in leadership in Australian organisations. A working hypothesis for the group was that it is difficult for leaders to see the impact of their comments and behaviours on others, particularly those who are one or two levels removed, hence the aim of the tool was to provide clarity on a leader’s shadow.


The Leadership Shadow for gender balance was adapted from a model created by Pine Street, Goldman Sachs’ leadership development. The model was trialled by a group of MCC and CEW members over a period of 3-6 months, including Alan Joyce (Qantas), Lieutenant General David Morrison AO (Army), Giam Swiegers (Deloitte), Dr. Ian Watt (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet), Gordon Cairns (Non-Executive Director), Holly Kramer (Best and Less), Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz (Mirvac), Rosheen Garnon (KPMG), Jayne Hrdlicka (Qantas), Kerrie Mather (Sydney Airports) and Helen Silver (Allianz). Each of these people were interviewed for the report.


The collective view of the MCC and CEW is that the Leadership Shadow model is just one approach designed to help leaders achieve greater gender balance in their organisations, it is not a prescription for automatic success, but certainly provided the MCC and CEW leaders with a practical tool to help analyse what they have been doing, evaluate what has and has not worked and then adopt more effective actions for moving forward.

The Leadership Shadow model

The four elements of the model, namely What I say; How I act; What I prioritise; and What I measure, outline specific actions required to improve gender balance and a set of reflection questions to help identify blind spots and prioritise action.

1.  What I say

This first step in the model is fundamental. Two key actions are: “deliver a compelling case for gender balance” and “provide regular updates and celebrate success”.

The report suggests that leaders need to identify, deliver and monitor the messages they send about gender balance and consider if it is consistent with their actions.

Participants in the study said that they needed to look inside themselves to find a personal story, develop a clear message that was aligned with the organisation and Executives team’s values and repeat this message continuously. Simon Rothery, CEO of Goldman Sachs Australia and New Zealand, said that he used the “Say” quadrant to reflect on when he talked about diversity, “The way that I was holding gender diversity as a separate objective, not integrated with other business priorities, was giving the impression that I wasn’t really serious. I explicitly started to integrate its prioritisation much more into my day-to-day business. I now try to talk about gender balance side-by-side with P&L and cost”.

2.  How I act

The second step focuses on the actions and decisions which give meaning to “what I say”. Three key actions are: “build a top team with a critical mass of women”, “be a role model for an inclusive culture” and “call out behaviours and decisions that are not consistent with an inclusive culture”.

Behaviours, symbols and the nature of relationships leaders develop are critical to achieving gender balance.

Participants reflected that simple changes such as appointing females into their leadership team were very symbolic and delivered immediate results in improving gender balance. Another key finding was that leaders reflected on their environment, confronted their own biases and recognised the need to “call out” behaviours and actions in the organisation that were inconsistent with the gender strategy. As leaders, they knew they had a choice about whether to speak up or remain silent. Lieutenant General David Morrison AO, Chief of Army said, “It was a really confronting moment for me when I realised we needed to be much clearer about our expectations about equality. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. I knew I had to be clear and direct about what was unacceptable behaviour in the Army and that there would be tough consequences for anyone found to be in breach”.

3.  What I prioritise

The third step focuses on helping leaders visibly lead the processes that drive towards greater gender balance. Three key actions are: “engage senior leaders directly”, “play a strong role in key recruitment and promotion decisions” and “champion flexibility for men and women”.

‘What I prioritise’ indicates to employees what leaders take an interest in and how they spend their time, that is their disciplines, routines and interactions.

Participants reflected on the importance of integrating gender balance into business priorities, and not treating it as an “HR project”. Specific actions included removing bias from talent discussions by using external assessments and global benchmarking; championing flexibility by emphasising that work is about output and impact, not time at the office; and that there were no boundaries around access to flexible work practices. Giam Swiegers, former CEO of Deloitte Australia reflected, “Ultimately, the buck stops with me. I need to make sure that all of the leaders in my organisation are inclusive. I don’t want this to be a diversity project—it has to underpin the way we do business. That doesn’t happen unless we have honest conversations and my team expects me to hold them accountable”.

4.  How I measure

The final step focuses on transparency. Telling employees what really matters and being honest about progress (or lack of). Three key actions include: “understand the numbers and levers, and set targets”, “hold yourself and your team to account” and “get feedback on your own leadership shadow”.

Robust and consistent measurement systems on gender should be part of standard reporting, aided by ASX and Workplace Gender Equity Agency guidelines.

Many participants reflected that targets enabled them to demonstrate their intent more clearly and resulted in a noticeable shift in conversation and results. Measurement was the key to demonstrating that this was not just a ‘fad’ but underpinned the way their organisations do business. Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner commented, “Targets allow organisations to get intentional. A wise person once said that ‘if you don’t intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.’ Regular measurement is the voice that reminds us all what we are striving for—environments where both men and women thrive”.



‘The Leadership Shadow’ is a simple model any leader can apply to address the gender issue. There is no one single formula for success however, this model provides leaders with a practical framework which can be applied to oneself or used to shift awareness and capability across a whole leadership cohort in an organisation. Dr Ian Watt AO, Secretary, The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet concluded, “For The Leadership Shadow (or any model) to be effective, it needs to move beyond me. I decided to discuss the model at length with my team so that we could reflect on our collective leadership shadow. It’s about me but also about how other leaders in the organisation adopt behaviours implicitly condoned through my actions, words or behaviours”.

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