Is Corporate Australia Embracing Gender Equality in the Boardroom?

In a banking and finance forum in 2011, Carolyn Hewson bemoaned that Australia’s lack of ‘nanny culture’ was detrimental to its success. Three years later, the country has seen an increase in female directorships on ASX 200 boards. From December 2010 to February 2014, the figure increased from 10.7% to 17.6%. While this has been a notable improvement on promoting gender equality in workplace leadership, you can see that corporate Australia still has a long way to go before women fully climb the corporate ladder.

In 2012, ranked board members of companies larger than $50 billion based on the combined market capitalisation of their companies. Unsurprisingly, the list (displayed below) is dominated by male board directors. Only Carolyn Hewson and Jane Hemstritch made it to the Top Ten.

While the number of women holding corporate leadership roles in ASX 200 companies has increased over the last few years and the abovementioned business firms are already taking actions, it seems that some of the country’s top-earning companies are still reluctant to appoint women, judging by the list released by A report by the Australian Institute of Company Directors revealed that as of February 2014, a total of 42 boards in the ASX 200 don’t have any female directors even with the Australian Securities Exchange’s gender diversity policy.

But why are ASX 200 companies, or any other company for that matter, still reluctant to appoint women to the upper echelons or be given bigger roles in the workplace? Surely it isn’t a case of the assumption that only men possess the skills and knowledge needed to run a top-earning company? Could it be that women are not making themselves known to the decision makers or that men appoint ‘like’ people to their Boards and Executive teams?

When it comes to qualifications and educational attainment, women are faring relatively better than their male counterparts. According to a recent report by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 87.8% of women aged 20 to 24 have attained year 12 qualifications or above, as compared to 84.1% of men in the same age bracket. In addition, 5.1% of women aged 15 to 64 have attained a postgraduate degree, compared to 4.9% of men. Despite this, however, the same report revealed that most women are still earning less and are given fewer opportunities to sit in the board and assume key positions.

In this rapidly changing world, companies and institutions should not overlook talent simply because of gender. Otherwise, they will remain stagnant, being unable to capitalise in the talents and skills female role models and workers can offer. The better performing companies have women in their Executive teams and on their Boards and diversity is a major strategic initiative.

And with the growing number of female entrepreneurs and businesswomen who built their companies from start-up and are now earning millions of dollars each year like Vicky Teoh, Lesley Gillespie and Naomi Milgrom to name a few, women have proven that like men, they are as capable or even better at running a successful company.

It’s time to give more female role models the opportunities to add value to organisations in the top roles.

What is your experience in attaining greater professional success? Are women holding themselves back? We will know when we have ‘made it’ when we no longer have to have these conversations!

Let me know your thoughts.


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