Category Archives: Committees

AmCham Committee articles

Female Leaders in the Spotlight – Susan Jennings, AbbVie

Director of HR – AbbVie ANZsusan jennings abbvie

Throughout her career, Susan Jennings has always had an instinct for an opportunity and where there were barriers she would always find another way.

In another life, she might have been an Air Force fighter pilot, or a professional cricketer – she certainly had those ambitions.  However, access to opportunity when she was starting out was often limited by the fact she was female. How things have changed in the 30 years Susan has been in the workforce! Continue reading

Recap: AmCham NEXT engages the start-up ecosystem

The key focus of AmCham NEXT’s first event of the year was the entrepreneur and, being held in the Tesla showrooms at Martin Place, the location could not have been more apt.  Alex Lynch (Google Australia), Robert Wickham ( and Malcolm Thornton (Cisco Systems) talked us through the ins and outs and ups and downs of launching a start-up and being an entrepreneur in today’s start-up ecosystem. Continue reading

Reflections on the unequal representation of women in leadership

It is an indisputable fact that women are not equally represented in leadership roles or management positions in Australian companies and governments, not even close. Even in 2016, this is the case in almost all arenas of business and politics and is most certainly a global issue, although Australia even appears to lag in this indicator among developed nations. This flows through to an under-representation of women on boards of directors of Australian public companies. Earlier this year consultant Conrad Liveris found that there were fewer women in CEO and chair roles in ASX 200 companies than there were men named either John, Peter or David in such roles. What an alarming statistic! In this piece we consider whether this under-representation is caused by a failure to recognise that women as much as men are able to achieve and sustain appropriate business outcomes, and conclude that this is a matter that good corporate governance can resolve. Continue reading

Shifting the paradigm – NSW NEXT: Network for Future Leaders goes back to basics

There is an interesting paradigm within modern workplaces when it comes to young professionals. Millennial workers spend many of their formative years after high school learning about the functional skills and knowledge required to carry out a job in their chosen field – be it through higher education or on-the-job training like an apprenticeship.

As their abilities develop through experience, so too does their industry expertise and many go on to rise through the ranks, until the day comes that they are given a team of people to leadership

And then what?


Continue reading

The Career Success Equation and Why Women Aren’t Gaining Leadership Roles

The glaring dearth of women in leadership positions, both throughout Australia and the world, has been much documented in recent years, with calls to see the gender gap closed at the top levels of business and government.  Although there has been much discussion, gender parity and diversity are still struggling to be achieved in the workforce. Women are underrepresented in the leadership pipeline and aren’t ascending to leadership roles at the same speed or with the same ruthlessness as their male counterparts. The promotion and development of talent and essential leadership skills for female employees needs to be a business priority of organisations, regardless of size.

Susan Colantuono, as the CEO of Leading Women – one of the world’s premier consulting firms for companies committed to closing the leadership gender gap – recognises and speaks on the importance of developing women leaders at every level. Previous AmCham Women in Leadership events have focused on how in order to accelerate women to the top of the leadership chain, they first need to develop their skills and advance themselves as they move through the pipeline. Continue reading

Industrial relations system creates high-cost, low-productivity projects

As the Productivity Commission finishes its draft report into workplace relations, one question it must ask is why does the system create high cost, low productivity projects? AmCham Human Capital Committee chairman and Seyfarth Shaw partner Chris Gardner considers the issue in a opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review.

131009 Mack Photo Seyfarth_03 (2)

Chris Gardner, Seyfarth Shaw

Last week, the Australian oil & gas Industry converged for its annual conference hosted by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association. The conference illustrated the great opportunities Australia has in LNG. It also served as a reminder that realising these opportunities depends upon deep investment in project infrastructure. Alas, we are expensive by international standards. Labour cost and productivity are becoming burning issues with our relative position poor by international standards.

As the Productivity Commission puts the finishing touches on its draft report into the workplace relations framework, a key question it will need to answer is, “What is it about the regulatory environment that drives high cost and low productivity outcomes on major projects?” Let me help.

First, there is what I call horizontal price control between projects.

This is the phenomenon which sees the price of labour set from one project to another, with the most recent project providing the starting point for the next.

The owners and developers of a new project have significant capital at play. They cannot afford for it to sit idle. Delay is untenable. The prospect of industrial action risks delay. Under the existing regulatory framework, the only real option to ameliorate the risk is a “greenfields” (enterprise) agreement. Such an agreement can only be made with one or more unions.

In effect, unions are put in a monopoly position for the supply and price of labour. “Price” is thereby distorted by this alone. Of course, it’s not just price, rostering arrangements often aimed at maximising overtime pay and union-control clauses are also in the mix.

The previous federal Labor government’s inquiry into the Fair Work Act acknowledged this dynamic, as did the Productivity Commission in its report last year into public infrastructure where it noted that, “unions routinely use the commercial risk faced by contractors as a lever to secure industrial concessions”.

This is not a criticism of union negotiating behaviour, it is a function of regulatory shortcomings. The issue has been raised squarely by the Productivity Commission again in its current inquiry into the workplace relations framework and has been the subject of a number of submissions.

There is also “vertical price control”. This is where the price of labour is set at the top of the project supply chain and is demanded of any and all sub-contractors throughout. Head-contractors effectively drive this outcome.

Sub-contractors are then limited in their ability to establish their own terms and conditions, and often the price of labour is standardised at the highest common denominator. Given this practice is fundamentally anti-competitive, why do economically rational, well-resourced players in key sectors of our economy accept it?

The project owner and head contractor need stability and certainty to deliver projects on time and it’s this quest for stability which is regularly offered as the reason – or at least a key reason. The question then for the Productivity Commission is, “to what extent is any regulatory shortcoming the underlying driver for the instability which is sought to be avoided?”

The link between investment in major projects (whether in resources or otherwise) and our labour relations environment is obvious and seemingly well accepted, so the practices relating to greenfields agreements and enterprise bargaining more generally will be a key focus for the Productivity Commission.

Fundamentally, the link between the “levers and pulleys” under the legal framework and negotiating behaviour needs to be understood. There are three dimensions here. First, evaluating where leverage sits as between the negotiating parties. Second, the impact of not reaching an agreement for both parties needs to be understood – it alone creates negotiating leverage. Thirdly, there is the monopoly position unions enjoy when it comes to setting terms and conditions in particular environments.

Chris Gardner is a partner with Seyfarth Shaw, a workplace relations law firm.

AFR Contributor