Gender diversity — you can be part of the solution

The harsh reality of women

The statistics on women in leadership are sobering. 

According to the August 2015 report from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), only 24 per cent of directors in Australia are women, only 17 per cent are CEOs and only 26 per cent hold key management positions. In fact, as many as one-third of organisations that report to the WGEA have no women in key management roles at all.

We know that the solutions to gender diversity are varied and complex. Many are structural and cultural — they are to do with regulatory reforms like gender targets; upgrading career support for families such as childcare and flexible working; and turning around ingrained perceptions about male-female roles which still run deeply through society. 

You’re the solution to women in leadership

Making these institutional changes will take time. And patience. However, there are many women aspiring to the C-suite and board who are done with waiting. But what can be done now to progress their careers? How can they take charge of their own advancement?

Governance Institute is holding a ‘must-attend’ lunchtime gender diversity forum in Sydney on Friday 30 October, where Diane Smith-Gander, Chair of Transfield Services, Kevin McCann, Chair of Macquarie Group and Helen Hardy, Company Secretary of Origin Energy, will provide vital career tips for women aspiring to the C-Suite and board, and discuss how organisations can support greater diversity.

Many of corporate Australia’s most successful women leaders have also shared helpful insights on what it takes for women to move up the ladder. Here are a few.

Alison Watkins — Group Managing Director, Coca-Cola Amatil

We have got to see more women coming through in senior executive roles, particularly getting line experience, being responsible for budgets and profit and loss results.

Carolyn Hewson — Non-executive director, BHP Billiton and Stockland

Until there are as many women in senior management positions or chair positions as there are men, for as long as it takes for that to happen, women will need male mentors because they are in positions of authority, and they are the ones largely doing the appointments. I am a great believer that women need male mentors. As far back as I can remember I have had a male mentor.

Yasmin Allen — Non-executive director, Cochlear, IAG, Santos, ASX Ltd

Aspiring women directors should approach companies and let them know. If people don’t know you are available, how can they contact you? Go and see head-hunters, go and talk to chairmen and other directors. There are plenty of great people out there, particularly women, who don’t make it obvious what they are aspiring to do, so they won’t get picked.

Katie Lahey — Chief Executive, Korn Ferry

We do know that almost as soon as they leave university, female graduates set their sights lower than male graduates. We know when women apply for roles, they have to feel very, very comfortable that they have nearly all the skills necessary to complete a role, whereas often a male candidates will put their hand up and give it a go, and take the risk even if they have only got 60 per cent of the requirements for the role. Generally the risk-averse side of a woman’s nature comes out through their career. It is always my advice to women — to take the risk, take the opportunity to try something different, to move out of their comfort zone and to get something on their CV which says they can manage big numbers of staff, complex groups, and big budgets.

Jillian Broadbent — Chair, Clean Energy Finance Corporation and non-executive director, Woolworths

Work on your inner stability, develop a bit of teflon coating, not being super-sensitive to criticism or insensitive comments from male colleagues. Do your homework and be prepared as it will improve your effectiveness and help your confidence and sense of belonging.

Catherine Livingstone — Chair, Telstra

Women need to understand the challenges they may face mid-career, be resilient and ask for support where required. Also, too many young women underestimate their own skills and ability. Many young women can be unnecessarily or consistently deferential, rather than backing their own judgment or prosecuting their own argument.

Find out more about Governance Institute’s Gender Diversity at Board & C-Suite Level event.


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