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Gender equality is not just about women and there has been a lot of focus in recent months on the need to involve men in initiatives aimed at promoting women’s career progression.
Last year the Women’s Business Council called for an army of senior male leaders willing and determined to become agents of change in the battle for gender equality, saying gender equality would “never happen without the full support of men”.
One company which is harnessing that support is Macquarie Group, a global financial services group. It runs a Champions of Change initiative, involving members of the senior leadership team who support its diversity work.
One such champion is Arun Assumall. Arun started working at Macquarie four years ago after many years at Goldman Sachs. He works in the commodities and financial markets division where he manages the commodity investor product team and line manages nine people.
His job was to start the team and he says he approached the process of hiring for the team with an open mind, recruiting the best talent with the right degree of seniority for the job. Without doing so intentionally the team is 50/50 male/female with the women on his team including a managing director, a director and an associate. Indeed it was almost entirely comprised of women at the beginning.
Arun says Macquarie strongly supports gender equality in the City and wants to keep ahead of the pack. A big focus now is on retention. The firm is very gender balanced in terms of graduate recruits, but Arun says more needs to be done to build the female pipeline to the senior ranks.
Arun believes he was selected as a Champion of Change because his team is so balanced. But he also has very strong personal and professional reasons for getting involved. Firstly, as a senior manager in a new firm, he initially thought being a champion of change would help him to understand the company better. He also strongly believes that diversity, and not just gender diversity, makes commercial sense. “We have a diverse audience and a diverse agenda so it makes sense that that is reflected in our workforce. Moreover, our clients want to see greater gender diversity. It makes a good first impression to come to a meeting with a balanced team and first impressions can have a lasting impact in business. It is overwhelmingly the right thing to do, but it is also best for business,” says Arun.
Changing the organisation
Arun is one of nine Champions of Change, including Macquarie’s EMEA CEO, David Fass. The initiative is an offshoot of the bank’s gender diversity employee network, Balance at Macquarie. The name was recently changed from Empowerment because, as Arun says, “it is not about changing women, but bringing about positive change in the organisation”. The network’s aim is to reflect the importance of ensuring everyone in the bank understands the business imperative for gender diversity and is “engaged in creating a company which attracts, retains and develops the very best talent irrespective of gender”.
The champions, whose number is expanding to spread the diversity message across the organisation, advocate for gender balance in the senior leadership forums and support Balance at Macquarie at internal events and in profiles for both internal and external publications. They also help to develop strategies related to their particular expertise and promote senior leadership involvement in Balance’s mentoring, sponsorship and other development programmes. The mentoring programme is cross-divisional in recognition that people may not always want to stay in the same division.
Arun promotes Balance’s agenda and events across his floor and in his role on the banks’s regional talent committee which deals with internal promotions. He also has a female mentee who is on the same floor as him but in a different function.
Arun is aware that some of the issues facing women relate to parenthood and the challenges of balancing work and family life, although he says many of these also affect men. Although none of the women in his team have children, two of the men do and one has a child with special needs who needs a bit more flexibility and support, but works just as hard at the other members of his team. In a previous role, two of Arun’s direct reports were working mums.
When one of them first returned to work after maternity leave, she took him aside and explained the kind of challenges she was facing. “I underestimated how difficult it is at the beginning when women come back from maternity leave,” he says. “I went on courses, but talking to her was the real training for me. She was very open and I could understand what she was facing. That has stuck with me.”
Arun believes that giving people the flexibility to be able to manage their lives and work in ways that work for everyone is beneficial all round. He says people do not focus well on their work if they are stressed in inflexible work patterns and adds that flexibility is a powerful retention tool. “Life is short. We are not born just to make money,” he states. “We have to find a balance through being flexible and collaborative.”