Australian women are highly educated, but are being held back in the workplace and in public life. We are failing to translate women’s education into workplace participation. This is a real waste of human potential and a drag on our national productivity.” Louise McSorley, Acting Director Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)
Before we even begin talking about this, I want to highlight some key numbers.
- Females constitute just over half (50.7 %) of the Australian population.
- The Australian workforce is highly segregated by gender. Female-dominated industries such as aged care, child care and health and community services are historically undervalued. Australian women are over-represented as part-time workers in low-paid industries and insecure work and underrepresented in leadership roles in the private and public sectors.
- While women comprise roughly 47% of all employees in Australia, they take home on average $251.20 less than men each week (full-time adult ordinary earnings). Men take home $25,717 a year more than women on average.
- Women constitute 42% of all employees, yet only a quarter of executives and only 10% of CEOs for large, for-profit companies are female. The transition point from key management positions to CEO has the highest drop off in women’s representation of any in the pipeline.
- Of the 24% of women in key management roles today, many of them are in support roles, such as the head of human resources and general counsel. As recent research on workplace diversity reveals, around 90% of CEO appointments come from line roles such as the chief operating officer or head of a business division. As a result, the near-term pipeline of women who are in line for CEO appointments is even smaller than it appears.
- WGEA data illustrates that the leadership pipeline is still not working for women. All nineteen industry divisions show a decline in the representation of women leaders from the key management personnel to CEO level.
These are disappointing numbers from a personal standpoint, and they are also disappointing from a business and economic one. There is conclusive empirical data that shows having a more gender-diverse management team leads to increased revenue. Jack Ma, the co-founder of the Alibaba Group, acknowledges that “If you want your company to be successful, if you want your company to operate with wisdom, with care, then women are the best … part of the ‘secret sauce’ of our success is because we have so many women colleagues.”
Given that numbers don’t lie or make any exceptions for gender, I’m left somewhat confused that we still are not seeing gender parity in either salary or management positions. It begs the question why? What are companies doing to address the issue? According to WGEA figures, a large number of organizations do have a policy to support gender equality, but only a few make it part of their key performance indicators (KPIs). I believe if organizations are sincere about gender equality then they need to start looking at this measure. It’s worth noting that Westpac, the first bank to publicly commit to having half of their leadership positions filled by women, a goal they accomplished in 2017, linked their gender targets to managerial KPIs.
How to increase diversity
Janice Gassam’s How to Increase Female Leadership in Your Company offers some solid and pragmatic advice for organizations. Here are some of her recommendations:
- Provide mentoring services
- Make increasing the number of women leaders in your company part of your business strategy
- Be transparent about your numbers and goals
- Look at your policies to ensure they accommodate rather than hinder your female employees. For example, offer flexible working hours, discounted day-care services
- Enforce an equal pay and a competitive maternity leave policy
- Educate all employees through training and education of unconscious bias and how our prejudices and preconceptions contribute to the inequitable workplace
It is improving
I do want to acknowledge that while we do not yet have gender quality in the workplace, in many areas the situation is getting better. The number of women getting promoted is on the rise with 43.3% of manager appointments in 2017-2018 going to women. While men still earn more than women, 2018 saw the largest single-year drop in the gender pay gap for five years. Also, although many have yet to act on it, more employers are at least looking at their payroll and conducting a pay gap analysis. Furthermore, the number of women on the Boards of ASX-listed companies grew from 8.3% in 2009 to 29.7% % in 2018, perhaps thanks to a diversity policy implemented by the ASX Corporate Governance Council in 2010.
The Australian Government is also taking steps and leading by example. In 2016 it committed to a gender diversity target of women holding half of all Government board positions. In 2018 women held 45.8% of positions. Additionally, the Australia Awards Women’s Leadership Initiative means the government is investing heavily — $5.4 million over five years — to support Australia Awards recipients to develop their leadership skills and capabilities.
Where to start?
Here’s Heide Abelli, SVP of Skillsoft’s Business Skills and Leadership products, talking about how women’s leadership training can support leaders at all levels.
When talking about gender parity often I hear that the problem is that when it comes to looking for people to fill the top leadership positions, there are just not enough female candidates with the relevant and appropriate experience. While many factors contribute to not only this thinking but also how it translates in the business world, I think we can start by providing directed and focused leadership preparation.
Skillsoft offers organizations a way to provide targeted leadership development training designed to help women overcome gender biases and learn the skills and capabilities needed to step up and step into the roles required to give them the experience necessary to assume even more responsibility and power. The Skillsoft Women in Action Program is a collection of high-impact training resources correlated to the competencies women leaders to succeed and thrive in the workplace. Divided into three levels: senior, mid and emerging leader, the courses require as little time investment as just one hour each month from participants.
Let’s not waste any more talent and get women moving further up the ladder and taking their well-deserved seats at the table.
Rosie Cairnes is the Regional Director for Skillsoft Australia & New Zealand.