Women in leadership
Oliver Sheer No Comments

Women are grossly underrepresented in leadership and management roles in the Australian workforce, with only one in four organisations (24 per cent) having a gender-balanced leadership team.

Only 19.4 per cent of CEOs or business leaders are women, while they make up only 33 per cent of board members, and 19 per cent of chairs. More broadly, women account for 41 per cent of all-level manager roles.

Women are also paid less than men, with the Gender Pay Gap – an internationally established measure of women’s position in the economy in comparison to men (not the same as equal pay) – showing men are paid 22.8 per cent ($25.8k) more per year on average.

The figures come from the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) 2020-21 employer census, published in February 2022.

While the report showed some minor improvements in closing the Gender Pay Gap and improving the balance of women in leadership in recent years, there is much more work still to be done.

While the gender equity imbalance is most noticeable at the top, it starts at the first rung in the leadership ladder. According to a September 2021 report from McKinsey & Company, for every 100 men promoted to manager in America, only 86 women are promoted, meaning there are far fewer women to promote to higher levels.

Women in leadership is good for business

Having women in leadership roles has been shown to significantly improve the bottom line.

A 2020 released report on gender equity by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, found a ”compelling causal relationship between an increase in the share of women in leadership and subsequent improvements in company performance.”

Specifically, it found that increasing the share of female ‘top-tier’ managers in ASX-listed companies by 10 per cent or more led to a 6.6 per cent increase in their market value.

It also found that having women in leadership roles increased the likelihood of companies outperforming in their sector on key profitability and performance metrics.

Women in leadership – what can companies do?

A concerted effort has been made by many companies in recent years to create a better gender balance in their leadership teams, according to a report by the WGEA.

It found that recruitment policies are the most emphasised area, but that these alone do not guarantee better outcomes.

Their research found 10 practices that are proven to be effective and can be implemented across industries:

  1. Build a strong case for change
  2. Role-model a commitment to diversity, including with business partners
  3. Redesign roles and work to enable flexible work and normalise uptake across levels and genders
  4. Actively sponsor rising women
  5. Set a clear diversity aspiration, backed up by accountability
  6. Support talent through life transitions
  7. Ensure the infrastructure is in place to support a more inclusive and flexible workplace
  8. Challenge traditional views of merit in recruitment and evaluation
  9. Invest in frontline leader capabilities to drive cultural change
  10. Develop rising women and ensure experience in key roles

Further to that, policies that help women achieve equal pay include banning salary negotiations and  boosting transparency around pay and pay negotiations.

What can women do?

Respected journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, Jessica Irvine recently researched what women can do to get ahead in the workplace and found five key points:

  1. Become aware: Women should recognise that there is gender bias in the workplace, especially those in the early stages of their careers.
  2. Call it out: If there is a gender imbalance or bias in the workplace, call it out, using the research and links in this article to help make your case.
  3. Advocate to redesign systems: organisation-wide changes are the most effective ways to help drive equality among men and women at work.
  4. Seek out mentors and sponsors: If your company does not have a mentorship program, actively seek one out. Sponsors who will advocate for you receiving pay rises and promotions are even better.
  5. Learn to negotiate: Women are better negotiators than men when they are doing it on behalf of others, they are just uncomfortable doing it for themselves. Learning formal negotiation techniques through courses and books can help overcome this discomfort.
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