Pushing back on corporate complacency and gender equity | Women's Agenda

Pushing back on corporate complacency and gender equity

The numbers are pretty damning when you look at them; within the leadership structure of the ASX200 – the top 200 publicly listed companies in this country – 179 of those companies have a dual male leadership team, with men in both the CEO and Chair positions.

Of the 40 CEO/Chair positions available within the ASX20, meanwhile, only one is held by a woman.

Less than one quarter (24.0%) of Australian organisations have undertaken a gender pay gap analysis. Men currently dominate leadership positions within corporate, the public sector and government. They are likely to do so for at least the foreseeable future.


Simply because there is not a strong enough leadership pipeline for women coming up through the ranks. This is partly because of a lack of support from both men and women in positions of influence, and partly because women are not seeing enough in the behaviour of leaders to attract them to higher management.

There’s a real likelihood that the CEO’s position held by women in the ASX20 may soon be down to nil.

A Different Direction

There are however, very real and promising opportunities being put forward by a few companies; those organisations prepared to stand up and be heard with respect to women being given equitable chances at influence and decision-making. It is these workplaces, along with Australian business’s strong, aware, fiercely intelligent female leaders, who have the opportunity to change the corporate landscape.

That sole female member of the ‘Top 20 Club’, Telstra’s Catherine Livingstone, is notable not only for her gender, but also because she works in a company notable for its equity programs. Along with ThoughtWorks, Telstra was publicly recognized in 2014 for taking a leadership role when it came to addressing gender inequity issues, both in pay scales and workplace bullying.

In the ASX200, Veda Group has both a CEO and Chair who are women – Nerida Caesar and Dr Helen Nugent, AO, respectively. Again, they are known for their positive, forthright approach to making gender equity a right, not a privilege.

Lone Sharks

However, the examples of big corporates being prepared to promote based purely on a meritocracy, and not on a quota-driven basis, are few and far between. Far more prevalent are women of intelligence, intellectual strength, and emotional sensibility, who are taking these essential leadership skills – and putting them to work in their own endeavours.  

Natural curiosity, the ability to balance commercial know-how with one’s emotional quotient, being able to separate the business self from the personal – these are all phenomenally important management traits women bring to organisations. And the recent trend is that women are taking these skills to solopreneur or small, collaborative workspaces due to a lack of leadership framework within big business.  

Jodie Fox of Shoes of Prey; Suzie Hoitink of Clear Complexions; Holly Ransom of Emergent Solutions; Lisa Winning of HeTexted. All brilliant, engaging, powerful women in their own right, who have walked a different path, when they could have stayed on the straight and narrow corporate highway.  

Rapunzel, or Real Life Leader?

None of these women would have wanted to take a leadership role if it came at the expense of someone who was actually more qualified – whether they were male or female.

There is a theory about some female leaders being Rapunzels, damsels in distress who are happy to succeed through quotas, and see no harm in this driving progress, irrespective of the fact that it isn’t progress, but rather stagnation.

There are very few real life Rapunzels, and most – if not all – female figures with any type of power in Australia would agree that the way they got there, and the way they wanted to get there, was through merit, and drive and courage.  

The question is this, and this wording comes from the ex- Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, who has himself often suffered from an inability of corporates to be forward thinking.

Will Australian business step up and over the quota barrier, and support targets instead, when it comes to gender equity in leadership – or will it continue to be a case of ‘what you don’t count, doesn’t count’?

If so, we will continue to see more and more amazing women become lone rangers, rather than corporate captains courageous. 

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