It’s International Women’s Day. Let’s shine a light on the state of play in women in leadership in Australia

Happy International Women’s Day – #beboldforchange

From Cath Nolan – MD Gender Gap Gone

As we head into International Women’s Day and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women, it’s time to #BeBoldForChange.

According to the International Women’s Day website, ‘progress has slowed in many places across the world, so global action is needed to accelerate gender parity.[1]

This year’s theme is #beboldforchange. And there are a number of ways we can do that. Both men and women.

I recently saw a post in a women’s business group online. Someone had shared an article from the Guardian[2] about gender pay inequity and discrimination. What surprised was, sadly, not the statistics, but the reaction from some of the women in the group to the article. That they had never witnessed gender discrimination in the workplace and they resented the inference that we are not successful unless we are CEO’s. That they were “feminist to a point” (whatever that means).

It’s important to clarify that sharing statistics and wanting more women in leadership roles across industry and government in Australia is not anti-men. Nor is it to point out that if you are not in a senior leadership role that you don’t play a significant and important role in our community, society and economy.

What it’s really about is power and decision making. If the most important decisions about our place in the global economy, product development, health and education, every layer of government policy making, every layer of our community and society, are made largely by men – is that right? Not that the guys don’t have valid ideas. But we all know that a balance in opinions, intellectual strengths, ways of working and decision making, and gender amongst other characteristics, bring a more rounded, innovative and inclusive decision.

Let’s investigate some of the Australian statistics about women in leadership, and celebrate some wonderful stories about women at the forefront of change.



What Do The Stories and Stats Say?

The good

Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Director Libby Lyons: the data confirms gender pay gaps in favour of men in every industry and the under-representation of women in management and leadership roles.

At the same time, it shows employers are stepping up to the challenge in greater numbers with proactive gender equality policies. For the first time, more than 70 per cent of employers reported they have policies in place to support gender equality.

“42.6 per cent of those appointed to managerial roles last year were women. So even though only 37.4 per cent of managers are currently women, we can expect that figure to trend up as more women rise through the ranks. Your boss today is still much more likely to be a man, but the data shows we are moving toward gender equality among managers.”[3]

Elizabeth Broderick, sex discrimination commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission brought together a group of business leaders. Redefining the role of men in the promotion of gender equality—and improving the environment for women leaders in their own organizations.

‘So we started the group, the Male Champions of Change, by identifying a dozen powerful men in some of Australia’s most prominent organizations. I picked up the phone and rang them. The group formed from there, ultimately reaching 25, its current size.

From the beginning, we were quite strict about participation in meetings and told the men they couldn’t send delegates. My rule was: “This is you I’m inviting, not your organization.”[4]


A McKinsey study, Why Diversity Matters, revealed that gender diverse companies are 15 per cent more likely to outperform others. Ethnically diverse companies are 25 per cent more likely to outperform. Great reasons for organisations to put into practice the policies they are proud to spruik. As Fiona Smith from the Australian Financial Review states, organisations with results in diversity implement “targets with teeth.”[5]


One of the reasons for this is that teams of people with different backgrounds, experiences and networks are less likely to indulge in “group think”, take different approaches to problem-solving and are more likely to be innovative. According to US leadership expert, Katherine Phillips, diversity makes us smarter.[6]

 The Bad

The Australian Financial Review report states: ‘First, the good news. The number of women chief financial officers in Australia’s top companies has increased. Now for the reality check.

Australia’s top 100 companies employ about half the number of female chief financial officers their international peers do, according to new research.’ [7]

The Ugly

Women make up half of the nation’s workforce but earn only 77 per cent of men’s average full-time income, according to the latest gender equality scorecard, launched by the WGEA.

The new data shows the average full-time female employee took home $26,853 less than the average male employee in 2015-16, with the salary difference rising to $93,884 at the top level of management.[8]

If you were offering me a senior leadership role and $93000 less than my male peers I might not be in too much of a hurry to take the job!

One of KPMG’s key findings (In the Gender Devisersity Quarterly Report for the Australian  Institute of Company Directors[9]), was that very few entities set or disclosed transparent quantitative objectives such as “30 per cent director seats to be held by women by 2018.”

The majority instead referred to the implementation of diversity programs or initiatives such as pay equity reviews as their best steps towards increasing the number of women on boards. Is this enough? Does this relate to direct action?


Stories from the front

IBM: Overall Diversity Management

Diversity means supporting women’s career aspirations without requiring them to sacrifice their other priorities or compromise their natural working style. Recognised as an Employer of Choice for Women, we have a strong focus on making our workplace more inclusive for women and to have greater representation of women in technical, leadership and professional roles.[10]

Want to know more about programs offered to women at IBM? Have a look here.

Companies doing it well:

The Weekend Australian’s Chief Executive Survey 2015 canvassed 71 chief executives and found that more than 25 per cent had less than 20 per cent women as a direct report senior executive level.

 The CEOs who rank highest in terms of having the greatest number of female direct reports include:

  • Smith Family boss Lisa O’Brien
  • Tabcorp’s David Attenborough
  • Telstra boss Andy Penn
  • Transurban chief Scott Charlton
  • GE’s Geoff Culbert
  • Westpac’s Brian Hartzer
  • Bendigo Bank’s Mike Hirst
  • Korn Ferry’s Katie Lahey.

The business leaders I’m talking to are highly motivated to create change and generally its for both productivity and for the greater good. How does your business fare?

Cath Nolan

MD, Gender Gap Gone

Over To You

We’d love to hear from you about how your organization addresses gender equality and how that impacts the culture of your workplace.

 Join us live at the Diversity Collective in Sydney 23rd May.

We’re broadening the conversation when it comes to diversity, inclusion and engagement.

We’re talking live case studies, looking at the cut-through strategies for gaining traction in inclusion and driving engagement across the business. Also, what are the tried and tested pitfalls that you can avoid for your business?

We’d love to see you there to continue the conversation about building diverse and inclusive workplaces and what support or success stories you have to share.

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