What our top CEO’s think about sustainability, energy and women in the workplace.

As a way of kickstarting the year, Tony Boyd and Michael Smith of the Australian Financial Review decided to survey some of Australia’s top CEO’s from banking, resources, media, property, insurance, infrastructure and retail to find out their predictions for 2015. The questions asked are as follows:

Questions for 2015

Whilst these questions cover a whole range of topics, we are interested in their responses to the last two questions, pertaining to sustainability and energy management, and the future of equity and diversity in the workplace. Given that the CEO’s surveyed are all leaders in the Australian business community and will be influencing our economy over the next 12 months, it’s worth paying attention. The CEO’s surveyed were as follows:

Who's Who 2015

Sustainability & Energy

The opinions of these CEO’s on the topic of environmental sustainability and energy are varied; some are in favour of Australian coal meeting the developing world’s energy needs, whilst others are in favour of strong climate change mitigation in business and in government. It is held by the majority of these executives, that the following will be the general sustainability and energy trends for Australia in 2015.

  • Australia will retain an economic comparable advantage from maintaining coal energy production, consumption and export.
  • Greater national debate on securing Australia’s energy future. Greater policy development on how to arrange affordable and sustainable energy for Australia. This will include greater discussion of the Australian Government’s Energy Green Paper, so as to enable a more competitive environment for energy production and consumption.
  • There will be robust debate and policy formulation around energy network efficiency (gas/electricity transmission and distribution), resulting in the breaking down of regulatory barriers. This will more than likely include support for smart meters and a move towards energy consumers paying cost-reflective pricing.
  • Greater movement around properly managing a medium-term transition to low-emission energy in Australia, including continued support and discussion of a Carbon Trading Scheme.
  • Stronger encouragement and uptake (by national corporate entities) of reduced energy-intensity strategies and initiatives that decrease environmental impacts – especially in the environmental, health and services sectors.
  • The property sector will continue to focus on alternative and renewable energy solutions.
  • Greater investment in research and development of low-emission technology and alternative (renewable) energy sources.
  • The Divestment movement will continue to expand.

There isn’t a clear winner here. There will certainly be greater discussion around lower emissions and greener energy, however in the near future there doesn’t seem to be a strong national movement away from coal consumption. It is promising to see a number of these large organisations taking active steps to mitigate their own carbon footprints and take leadership roles on these issues in their sectors.

Equity & Diversity: Women in the Workplace

Equity and diversity will again be a big focus for all sectors. There is a significant debate as to whether or not quotas are a legitimate and long term solution to gender inequality. Just under half of the executives here supported quotas, whilst the others thought that they were ‘blunt tools’ compared to the more flexible and effective ‘female inclusion targets’. Aside from this particular issue, it is likely we will see the following trends around women in the workplace:

  • Wider diversity measures including gender, age and ethnicity will become a bigger priority for big business in 2015.
  • More stringent and mandatory reporting on female inclusion levels.
  • Stronger efforts made to attract women to the workforce – in particular to financial services, mining, energy and resources, and manufacturing sectors.
  • Quota systems for mandated female inclusion will continue to be somewhat inefficient below Board and C-Suite level.
  • Greater propensity for companies to offer flexible working arrangements (including childcare access), to accommodate family commitments and women returning to the workforce after maternity leave.
  • Stronger support of female representation targets across all levels of business; there will be a higher focus on improving executive representation towards equal 50:50 levels.
  • Wider support of, and adherence to recommendations by the Federal Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
  • Continued growth in the Male Champions of Change movement, with the on-boarding of additional national executive leaders

All organisations represented here were unequivocally in support of equity measures, looking to improve the levels of female employees within their organisations and sectors. The only standout industry is Healthcare, where the majority of the workforce is female, so the focus for this sector will be on other diversity measures of ethnicity, disability, sexuality, age and culture.

This is a fascinating set of responses, if you have the time to read through them all. Some are surprising – like the CEO of BHP Billiton calling for a bigger focus on alternative energy development and the production of low emission energy – but all in all they give a good picture on where corporate Australia will be heading this year, and what we can expect to get chins wagging over the next 12 months.

To read the full report of survey responses, you can find them here.

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