5 minutes with Gordon Cairns, a male champion of change

Gordon Cairns

The Leaders in Heels event to be held in September; Men+ Women = Gender Equality will have Gordon Cairns, recently appointed Chairman of David Jones and a Male Champion of Change as one of its panelists. We caught up with Gordon to talk about gender equality and his work as a male champion of change.

1. In your opinion, where’s the gender equality status/debate at?

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We’ve elevated the debate, largely through the work of the male champions of change and the work done by the AICD (Australian Institute of Company Directors) and taken it to CEO and boardroom levels. We’ve changed the debate from women talking only to other women about the issue, to women now talking to men to men at leadership levels talking to other men about the issue. It has moved from a moral question to a business case imperative.

2. Tell us about your involvement as a male champion of change. Was there a particular incident that triggered it?

There were a couple of reasons. Firstly, I have a wife and a daughter so therefore I had a personal interest in making it easier for my daughter as she pursued her career. Secondly, I was convinced that the way companies could compete more effectively was to get the best people and in effect we were only competing for 50% of the gene pool which doesn’t really help a company’s competitive advantage. We need to get the best women and the best men into the jobs.

3. You often say practical strategies need to be implemented to improve gender equality rather than just talking about it. Could you share with us some of the strategies you’ve implemented in the past and the outcomes?

Let me answer this by relating what I’ve observed happening at the male champion of change level. There’s a clear template at how you become successful at improving gender equality. The CEO takes personal ownership for diversity by establishing a diversity council which he chairs, he commits to targets for diversity, and is happy to publish those targets, and the CEO has those targets as one of his personal KPIs which he gets rewarded on. What happens thereafter is that it gets cascaded down the organisation and you’ve got a clear vision of what is required and clear metrics of progress and dollar costs.

4. What do you think of our event, Men+Women= Gender Equality as one of our panel members?

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I see one of my commitments as a male champion of change as I actually have to go out and be an advocate for change. Not only in the organisations that I work in but also have an advocacy/spokesperson role as part of the diversity program. That was mainly the basis because of which I was happy to be involved in this event.

5. In your opinion, some men are reluctant to embrace gender equality?

I wouldn’t be too hard on those who aren’t embracing this movement, none of us like change. so the ones who are in the movement have to help those who are resistant to accepting this change or uncomfortable about it.

Gordon Cairns

Gordon is a Celt, born in Bridge of Allan, Scotland. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated with an M.A. honours degree.He started his career with Nestle, followed by Cadbury, the Imperial Group, and PepsiCo, where he worked for ten years in 3 continents, in Marketing, Operations and Finance. He joined Lion Nathan, initially as the M.D. of their Australian beer business, and thence for 7 years as C.E.O. During that period, the company was consistently recognised as a best employer, and he was awarded a “True Leaders” award on 3 separate occasions.

In September 2004, he stepped down from full time executive life, and now serves as chairman of Origin Energy, Quick Service Restaurants and as a non-executive director of World Education (a microfinance provider).He is a senior advisor to McKinsey and consultant to Greenhill (a corporate advisory firm), He is married to Jane, and they have two children, Debbie and Neil. Gordon was appointed to the board of David Jones as its new chairman last week.

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