Ashley McGrath

In this candid conversation with Collective for Equality, Ashley McGrath, Chief Executive Officer of CEOs for Gender Equity (CGE), delves into the organization’s mission, her personal journey, and the strategies employed to foster gender equity in the workplace. CGE is a Western Australia for-purpose organisation, focused on inspiring and supporting CEOs to take action and accelerate gender equity.

CGE’s inclusive approach to gender equity rejects the notion of fixing women or blaming men. The premise of the organisation is that gender equity encompasses not only increasing women in leadership and closing the gender pay gap but also addressing gendered norms and stereotypes that affect men. Ashley states, “It’s all connected. If we want more women in leadership, we need men to step in to support with unpaid domestic work and parenting and caring responsibilities.”

Reflecting on her career, Ashley recounts her trajectory from the recruitment industry in Northern Ireland to her current role as the CEO of CGE. Six years ago, she identified a recurring theme in conversations with organizations – a desire to hire, engage, and promote more women without a clear roadmap. This realization led her to pursue a Ph.D., focusing on improving the inclusion and diversity of women in the West Australian mining industry. She affirms, “I loved my career in recruitment because I got to help people find their dream jobs and help companies find great people.”

Her journey to the CEO role at CGE is marked by a significant act of sponsorship. Her CEO, who was a Board member for CGE, sponsored her for the position, showcasing the transformative power of sponsorship in creating opportunities for career growth. She highlights this by saying, “He spoke to my boss, who spoke to me and said, ‘I’m sponsoring you for this role.’ So essentially, he took me out of his organization and empowered me to achieve the role which I’m currently in, so I will be forever grateful for that. And that is classic sponsorship.”

CGE’s Initiatives and Practical Tools

The genesis of CGE traces back to 2012 when the Equal Opportunity Commissioner in Western Australia engaged CEOs of major employers about rising sexual harassment complaints. This led to the formation of a group initially comprising 18 CEOs, which has now expanded to over 90 leaders. As a not-for-profit and registered charity, CGE’s membership fees are tax-deductible, fostering a collective commitment to driving gender equity.

CGE operates with two foundational principles: change starts at the top, requiring CEOs or the most senior personnel to join, and a commitment to not blaming men or fixing women. Currently, with over 90 Western Australian leaders as members, CGE functions as a platform for learning, sharing, and collaborating on gender equity.

Ashley highlights the practical tools CGE provides its members, including a gender equity policy library and a gender equity toolkit. She explains, “We have a member gender equity policy library which houses over 100 documents including gender equity strategies, gender equity blueprints, family domestic violence policies, parental support programs, inclusive language guides – all this internal intellectual property from our members. We are not aware of any other organisation which takes collaboration and sharing to this level.”

A groundbreaking initiative in progress is CGE’s job matching program targeting return-to-work parents. By bringing together a project team from member organizations, the program aims to connect talented parents with job opportunities within the CGE network. Since CGE members are dedicated to accelerating gender equity, flexibility and support for these parents to reignite their careers is a given.  Ashley sees the program as a win – win, “Return-to-work parents will be connected with job opportunities at inclusive and supportive organisations, CGE members gain access to an untapped pool of talent and the state benefits from improved workforce participation.”

Best Practices and Key Learnings

Ashley McGrath challenges the notion of fixing individuals and emphasizes fixing the system to eliminate gender biases and obstacles. She shares insights from her career, highlighting the importance of finding one’s niche and specializing to overcome obstacles. Ashley advocates for an approach that inspires and influences change rather than using a forceful or reactive method.

In terms of best practices among CGE members, active CEO leadership and setting measurable targets emerge as critical elements for success. Ashley stresses the significance of sharing the ‘why’ with employees to garner their support. Practical strategies include having a deliberate plan for supporting parents, implementing flexible working policies, internal sponsorship programs, and allocating a budget for gender equity initiatives. She asserts, “Best practice from a CEO leadership perspective are of course the  CEOs for Gender Equity. Each member makes a public commitment to accelerating gender equity and they work through three commitments which are designed to inspire and engage others on the journey. We bring our members together three times a year to share who’s doing what, what’s working, what’s not and how we can collaborate to drive impact.”

Ashley acknowledges the increasing awareness about gender equity metrics in Australian organizations. She points out the wealth of publicly available data through the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which mandates reporting for companies with over a hundred employees. Ashley advocates for transparency, noting that reporting on metrics fosters awareness, attention, and ultimately, action. She emphasizes, “I’m not about naming and shaming. I’m about bringing these important metrics to the attention of CEOs, Executives and Boards, because everyone is set to gain when we improve gender equity.”

Through her role at CGE, Ashley McGrath stands at the forefront of driving gender equity in Western Australia, providing a blueprint for organizations globally. Through practical tools, shared insights, and a commitment to transparency, CGE is making strides in creating workplaces that are truly inclusive and equitable.