If women are to achieve gender equality in the workforce, we need to challenge the infrastructure and mentality which have colluded to keep women out of executive level positions.
And yes, women have some ownership here and need to do more to support and encourage each other to apply for senior and executive positions as well as backing our own skills and experience to apply for these positions themselves.
There is no doubt the gender gap in Australia is slowly closing in terms of the percentage of women in leadership roles, but there is still a long way to go before there is true gender equality in executive positions.
Data from the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA – 2017) reveals that women’s wages are an average 16 per cent lower than men’s, while the gender pay gap in the ASX Top 200 organisations is a staggering 28.7 per cent.
Some more data on the positions women hold across Australia:
- 12.9 per cent of all chairperson positions
- 24.7 per cent of directorships
- 16.3 per cent of CEO positions
- 28.5 per cent of key management personnel in agencies which reported their data to the WGEA
- More than one quarter (29.9 per cent) of agency reporting organisations have no women in key management roles.
In Victoria, where I work as an executive recruitment consultant, the data is more encouraging, but shows there is still more which needs to be done before we have true gender equality in the workforce.
The Victorian Public Sector employs 285,423 employees across 3,388 public sector bodies, according to the Victoria’s Public Sector Commission (VPSC). While women account for 67 per cent of employees in the Victorian public sector, they hold just 39 per cent of executive positions.
Victorian public sector board member statistics also show a significant gender imbalance with men holding 65 per cent of all board positions and women the remaining 35 per cent.
VPSC’s research showed a higher representation of women in executive roles in the health sector however, water and land management recorded the second lowest number of female executives.
In August, women who hold senior positions within the Victorian public sector were named in the first Top 50 Public Sector Women (Victoria) List to highlight and recognise the impressive work women are undertaking in leadership roles in local and state government sectors and Statutory Authorities.
Those named on the list will receive ongoing mentoring and support from others who have successfully navigated the male-dominated business sector, filling a gap we have long recognised.
Among those making the Top 50 list was Dr. Emily Phillips, Deputy Secretary Agriculture, Food and Fibre and IPAA Board Member.
Speaking at an August Public Sector lunch in Victoria, Dr. Phillips said the real challenge to achieving gender equality in the workforce was the need to “fix systematic barriers which still exist to women’s progression, particularly in very senior roles.”
“It’s still the case that the further up you go the leadership ladder, the fewer women there are,” Dr. Phillips said.
“This challenge is often described as the leaky pipeline. In essence, we have plenty of talented and skilled women in middle management and early level executive positions, but we lose them.
“We lose them through the promotion pipeline through to our executive bands.”
Dr. Phillips said there was a risk of wasting leadership talent and capacity “if we continue to allow the talent pipeline to leak.”
The Victorian Division of the Institute of Public Administration Australia, has announced it will take a more active role in addressing gender equality by addressing four key areas.
The first of these, Dr. Phillips said, was the need to keep building the leadership capacity of women in the Victorian Public Sector. The second is the creation of opportunities for women to network and share ideas and information (and encouragement).
The third key area of focus was to develop and support women who are already in executive level positions while the last area of focus needed to be advocacy to break down systematic barriers to women’s advancement in the public sector.
Importantly though, Dr. Phillips stressed that achieving gender equality was not just a “women’s issue.”
“I really want to stress that our intention is to involve both men and women,” she said.
“We all need to recognise there’s a fundamental fairness issue here, and that tackling these problems is going to require all of us as public sector leaders to champion change and to do things differently.
“Because it benefits all of the public sector to have the best possible talent in senior roles, and greater flexibility and leave arrangements and part time senior roles can benefit men as much as women.”
Catherine Morley, Chief Executive of Rural Northwest Health, who was also named in the Top 50 list, is a strong advocate of flexible working arrangements, which help organisations to both attract, and retain, the right female candidates.
Ms Morley said she wasn’t surprised the health sector is so well represented by women with six female executives in her team alone.
“A truly flexible organisation supports and is in tune with its staff and their needs both inside and outside of the workplace,” Ms Morley said. “We also need to see more mentoring and flexibility.”
“I believe that’s partly to do with our role models at the top, the Minister for Health and the Health Secretary who are both female,” Ms Morley said. “In health we have to truly reflect the people we service and look after.
“To just have male representation making all of the key decisions, doesn’t work as it misses half of the people we look after.”
Melbourne Water’s Executive General Manager, Service Delivery Charmaine Quick, also made the Top 50 list representing a sector which is heavily engineering and technically focussed. Statistics from Engineers Australia shows 87 per cent of engineers working in Australia are men.
“That very small pool of female engineers means the chances of progressing to an executive level is low. We need women to start backing themselves and believing they can deliver in senior positions,” Ms Quick said.
Ms Quick applauded the Victorian Government’s commitment to having no less than 50 per cent female representation on water board corporations – an undertaking it has delivered on.
“However, more needs to be done at executive and management level,” Ms Quick said. “Currently in the water sector women hold 24 per cent of management roles and 21 per cent of executive roles, so we still have long way to go.
“We can only achieve so much on our own. Having great mentors, both male and female, was particularly important for me. They pushed me to apply for positions which I thought were out of my reach. I never would have made it without that mentorship and now I try to provide that same mentorship to others.”
Furthermore, data shows women are not applying for senior level roles in the same numbers as men and this is partly because many women don’t back their experience and skills.
Interestingly though, anecdotal evidence shows that when women do apply for senior positions, they have a significantly greater chance of getting the job.
So if we want to achieve gender equality in leadership positions, women need to back themselves and each other, but workplaces meanwhile need to ensure women have access to the “leadership pipeline” and are encouraged – by men and women – to strive for executive roles.