We caught up with the Australian Financial Review Magazine’s editor to mull over what their annual Power Issue says about the landscape of Australian workplace trends in 2016.
“What a difference a year makes.” That’s how the Australian Financial Review opened their launch of 2016’s The Power Issue, out last Friday, which ranks members of society for their influence over political, cultural and workplace trends, among others.
We spoke with the magazine’s editor, Katrina Strickland, who had an eagle’s-eye view of the process and was in the room as the panelists engaged in vigorous debate about the thought leaders due for recognition.
So what does The Power Issue have to say about the people best positioned to influence workplace trends into the future?
In short, social media has destabilised the traditional order, and positions of power (even ones as entrenched as Prime Minister) are more tenuous. Technology has also driven change – to traditional workplaces, as well as the ways we fight back against sexism and inequality – in the media as well as the boardroom.
“I would say power is very diffused at the moment,” says Strickland. “It’s spread across quite a few different people and it’s moving quickly. Everything that digital media has brought us means that people have power for less time than they used to.”
The founders of Sydney-based software technology company Atlassian, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, stood out in the ranks for their cultural influence, in no small part due to their new-generation approach to workplace culture.
“Atlassian is a very highly sought-after place to work because these guys have re-written the employment manual,” wrote panelist Dominique Fisher, managing director of CareerLounge and non-executive director of Australia Post.
Innovations include pushing for more tax-friendly treatment of employee share options – an important retention tool in the tech sector – as well as workplace flexibility.
“They won the great places to work survey last year,” Fisher tells us. “It’s actually about shifting from the concept of hierarchical management to individual management.”
Strickland agrees. “They don’t really need permission from anyone,” she says. “They aren’t just following the rules and templates that bigger companies have: they’re setting things up the way they want.”
Years of behind-the-scenes activism, both in public and behind closed doors, has resulted in more women than ever represented in the power lists across both the public and private sector – another one of this year’s big (and welcome) workplace trends.
“There’s been a concerted effort in recent years to make sure that all the talk of getting women into positions on boards and in companies and in politics – and across the board – has really started to get traction,” says Strickland.
Women such as Elizabeth Broderick, who set up the Male Champions of Change program several years ago to enlist male executives to elevate women’s representation in leadership on the national business agenda, were represented across the magazine’s pages.
“Because it’s being led by people at the very top of organisations, everyone flowing down acknowledges that they have to do something about it,” Strickland says.
Finally, of note are the “anti-misogyny warriors,” as the panel dubbed them: Women in high-profile positions who are using their voice on social media to amplify workplace conversations about sexism.
Strickland sees this as a timely reflection of how issues that also affect workplaces are being reclaimed outside of mainstream media. “I think it’s fascinating that the panel chose this as one of their issues, because trolling of women, particularly women in positions of power on social media, is one of the big issues. And women are banding together, re-tweeting, using social media as a way to fight back – and it works.”