The curious case of the female CEO: Why we remain so rare

The curious case of the female CEO

It’s Thursday morning, and a message flashes up on my phone. Another invitation to meet for coffee from a fellow business executive, wanting to find out more about me and my business.

Initially, these invitations also had me intrigued. I’d graciously accept, expressing my preference for hot chocolate and suggesting my favourite haunt. Perhaps I might be offered a potential business partnership, inclusion in a leadership mentoring program or invitation to speak at an event?

Hot chocolate in hand I’d listen intently as these senior male executives told me about their own business and career, before saying, “So, Kelly, it’s interesting to meet a woman in your position, I’m keen to find out more”.

Ah, yes, a female CEO. How curious!!

I should not have been so surprised. WGEA released its annual gender equality scorecard last week and whilst progress has been steady in some areas, when it comes to Australia’s c-suite, the results are underwhelming. LinkedIn, HR trade press and company websites are awash with organisations claiming to be making huge steps forward when it comes to advancing opportunities for women in the workplace yet the data tells us a different story.

It’s great to see that almost 75% of employers now have a gender equality strategy in place, however, only 31.4% have KPIs in place to measure outcomes. What this tells us is that 68.6% of employers lack authenticity – if we are not prepared to measure our progress and hold our leaders and managers to account, then what impact do we really expect our strategies and policies to have?

I’m proud that Harrier, in an industry called out by WGEA as one of the worst offenders when it comes to gender equality, has an all-female leadership team. I won’t suggest that it was by design, but I’m told time and again that simply having a female CEO is a huge motivator for women to join our team, and to succeed within it. Because if you can see it, you can be it.

So what do we see in Australia? That women represent 50% of the workforce, but only 17.1% of CEO positions. This is where a lack of authenticity and accountability is getting us. If we want to see more women in senior, executive and c-suite positions, we need to set ourselves stretch targets, and we need to measure and publicly report on our progress. Only then will we be able to advance women’s careers, show evidence that is it possible, and give future generations strong female role models to help mentor and encourage their journey.

Devise Strategy. Set Targets. Measure. Report. It’s not really that hard, is it?

I am still happy to meet with anyone to have a coffee (or hot chocolate) and talk about my business, but I’d much rather talk about why female executives seem to be such a rare commodity and offer insights as to how we can make real progress.

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