In their own words

Women in leadership

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"While we have seen a positive increase in the number of female directors, the number of female CEOs and executives has not similarly increased... women are [still] being excluded from roles that would position them in the pipeline to leadership.”
Helen Conway, Director of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership

2012 marks the tenth year of the Australian Census of Women in Leadership – a decade of measuring whether our listed companies include women in their board, executive and management teams. We are now at a point where corporate Australia is fully aware of the business imperative for advancing more women into leadership positions, with many organisations proactively working towards gender equity.

Yet, according to the 2012 Census, last year women still held less than 10% of executive positions in the ASX 200, and only 6% of line management positions. This is in contrast to the public sector, where, according to Ernst and Young’s Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders 2012, 37% of leaders are women, giving Australia second place ranking1.

Even these public sector statistics are not as good as they might appear at first glance. Governments have had equal opportunity and affirmative action policies as well as meritorious appointment processes in place for many years and there is at least anecdotal evidence from women public sector leaders suggesting that the numbers of women in leadership roles are actually declining.

Q. What do you do when, despite ten years of focused effort, significant and sustainable change fails to materialise or be sustainable

You find the successful women, and ask them: What enabled your success? And you share their stories with the business community to generate discussion to support the change agenda.

This report is based on interviews with 15 successful, female leaders. We asked them:

The fact that many of our interviewees either run their own companies, or work in the public or not-for-profit sectors, speaks volumes about the challenges faced by corporate Australia in attracting and retaining talented women.

Although their interviews don’t reveal a silver bullet for Australia’s lack of female board members, managers and executives, they do uncover common issues holding women back – such as the difficulty in sustaining flexible work practices, being able to access affordable quality childcare and being recognised for their skills and input, regardless of where and how they work.

None of these hurdles are insurmountable, but each will require companies, policy makers and women themselves to do some things differently – as this report explores.

We hope, in speaking the unvarnished truth, it will provoke some useful conversations and pragmatic rethinking of the way companies engage with talented women. We also hope it will inspire both women and men to speak out against the status quo, agitate for change and play their part in improving gender equity in Australian organisations.

The business case for gender equity

Research shows that companies with a higher representation of women in decision making positions in both the private and public sectors perform better than those with more homogenous leadership. This is because these organisations steer clear of ‘group think’, which drives innovation. Diversity also helps companies to retain intellectual property, increase productivity and boost employee engagement.

We are in a time of profound change driven by an ageing population, climate change, questions regarding our dominant economic models, and a prolonged financial crisis. Innovation and diverse leadership styles will allow us to explore different solutions to these complex issues.

1Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders, EY, 2012