What can we do?

In their own words - Women in leadership

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Through our discussions with women of influence, we have compiled the following diverse list as a starting point for discussion and consideration by different stakeholders. The list is by no means a consensus; for example, some the women interviewed held very different views about the issue of gender quotas.

We present all their ideas here in full because what Australia is currently doing isn't supporting change within a reasonable time frame. All suggestions need to be considered to drive sustainable change.

More importantly, everyone needs to be involved in the discussion. Decision makers need to invite a broad spectrum of diverse thinking to the table to solve these issues – men, women, parents, singles, young and more experienced individuals need to realise the importance of driving change for the future prosperity of both the country and individual organisations.

In particular, women in positions of influence have a vital role to play in terms of stewardship – creating a better workplace for future generations of both women and men. We all need to do something different: governments, companies and individual women. Here are some places to start...


“If 50% of our workforce is not able to contribute all their talents optimally, then the whole nation suffers.”
Linda Kristjanson

Consider quotas if change doesn’t materialise >>

If a woman is on a succession bench, then she’s qualified for the job and therefore should be appointed accordingly Risks are taken with men in senior roles every day. Why not take the same chance on a woman? When a man fails to succeed in a given role, it is commonly viewed as the fault of the individual. If a woman fails to succeed in a given role, not only does the individual fail but the experience somehow influences future decisions regarding the appointment of other women.

Improve childcare affordability and accessibility >>

Review the progress of other countries around the world. Make this issue a national priority.

Ask education departments to match school hours with work schedules >>

Introduce two additional hours for after-school ‘homework’, supervised by teachers, taking this task from the shoulders of working parents, allowing home time to be quality time spent together.


“Change has to be driven from the top.”
Marion Webster & Renata Singer

Australia’s demographics have changed considerably over the past 50 years, but the make-up of private sector decision makers has not. We need our decision makers to be truly representative of their workforce, their society and their shareholders.

Leadership commitment >>

Send a consistent message from the most senior levels: “This is a business imperative and it is a non-negotiable area of investment by the organisation.”

Leadership leading by example >>

Have the courage to call out inappropriate behaviours and attitudes that undermine the goal of gender equity. Embed accountability into the performance targets of every leader.

Unconscious bias >>

Don’t underestimate the impact of unconscious bias. Discuss it, understand its impact, measure it and put in place systems and processes to minimise it.

Culture >>

Entrench respect for people who also undertake family and community work. Value contribution and achievement, over face time and appearances.

Talent identification >>

Proactively seek out and encourage future female leaders, including those who don’t work according to traditional paradigms. Avoid the risks of missed opportunities and unnecessary costs associated with exclusive and out-dated talent management processes.

Recruitment practices >>

Have at least one woman on the decision panel and at least one woman in the pool of candidates. Look further afield for quality candidates and have the courage to take a risk on a non-traditional candidate.

Promotional policies >>

Ensure anyone with skills, even if they work part-time or flexi-time, has the opportunity to progress.

Gender Targets >>

Set gender targets to regularly measure progress made and to refocus efforts when progress has stalled.

Career path management >>

Accept a non-linear approach. Take a long-term view of an employee’s potential contribution. Support the re-entry of employees to better retain high quality employees for the longer term.

Targets >>

Give everyone from the CEO to junior managers gender hiring and pay targets. Pair targets with gender equity reviews at remuneration time.

Parental leave >>

Have real discussions about the individual needs of returning parents. Acknowledge that any decision will depend on what the family unit looks like and what can realistically be expected. Be flexible. Stay in touch with the individual while they are away. Offer access to training and continuing professional development and keep them involved in the goings on of the office. Really think about their individual needs for re-onboarding. Discuss long-term strategies in regard to career development. Invest the time to review the job design to support those transitioning from full to part-time arrangements and those wanting to return to full-time work.

Don’t assume carers can’t travel >>

Sometimes you can be very surprised by the answers you get when you ask the question.

Work practices >>

Forget 9-5. Make work output based. Revisit work locations – do people really need to be at the office? Don’t worry about when or where work gets done, as long as it’s of high quality.

“We must invest in people, through every stage of their life, because in five years’ time, if we’ve done the right things to support that person, we will reap the rewards”.
Tina Thomas

Individual women

“I burnt the perfectionist stick that a lot of women beat themselves up with. The reality is that my house was not always clean and my clothes were not always ironed. It wasn’t me working in the school tuck shop and it wasn’t me making the slice for the children to take to school. But it was me reading to the children, it was me building a solid relationship with them and it was me loving them.”
Thérèse Rein

Take on stewardship >>

Consider your legacy to the workplace. How can you make your organisation, your community and your nation better for future generations? If you have been successful – tell your story and develop those coming up the ranks. Use language deliberately to influence the way you are perceived.

Agitate for change >>

As employers, as business owners, as employees and as consumers. Gender equity is not only a social justice issue, it improves productivity, engagement and financial results. Make your voice heard.

Have a go >>

Put your hand up. Assume you can do it. Find someone who can help you.

Be more assertive >>

Understand the options available to you and never be afraid to speak up for yourself.

Learn to negotiate effectively >>

Understand your worth to the organisation and learn how to negotiate fair work conditions and pay in line with your male colleagues.

Tell your employer what you want >>

Be really clear about the type of role that will work for you at this point in your life. What kind of work, hours or location do you really need? Can you travel? Your manager is not a mind reader. They will not offer you the right role, unless you can articulate what that is.

Choose something you’re passionate about >>

Reflect on what’s really important to you, rather than what other people think is the ‘right’ career choice.

Play the long game >>

Accept it’s OK if your career takes a back seat while you start a family. Your career is often 30 years long. In the grand scheme of things, don’t get hung up on what happens for a sixth of that time.

Respect that flexibility goes both ways >>

Be flexible where and when you can to support your team and your organisation.

Let go of gender-stereotypes in terms of who does what at home >>

Take a team approach in domestic life. Ask for help and let go of perfection.

Ask for advice >>

It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. Talk to people about their experiences. Whenever you meet someone new, ask yourself: What can I learn from this person?

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
Lindley Edwards