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Women in Australia have more employment opportunities and are more educated than ever before, however gender equality at senior levels in the workplace has yet to be achieved. In senior leadership positions, men outnumber women across the public and private sectors, as well as in the upper and lower houses of federal parliament.
This article focuses on the number of women in senior positions, some of the barriers that may be blocking women from reaching senior positions, and current initiatives being put in place to not only increase the number of women in leadership roles, but also get people to look outside the square and start cultural change within the workplace.
A LACK OF A GREAT PUSH FORWARD
When Queen Elizabeth II touched down in Canberra for the start of her Australian tour in October 2011, she was greeted by an entourage of women, all in senior positions; Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, and ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. It was a considerable 'first'.
Despite aspirations for more women in senior leadership roles, progress over the last 10 years has been slow. While in 2011-12 women represented close to half of the labour force as a whole (46%), and 45% of Professionals, women remain under-represented at senior levels within both the private and public sector.
A key measure of women's empowerment in society is their participation in politics. (Endnote 1) Women make up half of Australia's total population (50%), (Endnote 2) however as of 1 January 2012, less than one-third (29%) of all Federal Parliamentarians across Australia were women (66 out of 226). In the federal government, seven ministers including the Prime Minister were women, compared with 23 ministers who were men. (Endnote 3)
In the Federal Parliament, there is a higher proportion of women in the Senate or upper house (38%) than in the House of Representatives or lower house (25%). The Senate has traditionally had a higher proportion of women than the House of Representatives. (Endnote 3) This may be due to people regarding upper house seats in the Senate as less desirable than seats in the House of Representatives, particularly ambitious people who aim their careers towards working in the House of Representatives where government is formed. (Endnote 3)
In 2012, the proportion of state and territory parliamentarians who were women was 30% - slightly higher than the proportion of Federal Parliamentarians, but still just less than a third. Female state and territory parliamentarian representation rose from 27% in 2002 to 31% in 2006, but has remained relatively stable since then.
CEOs and Board Directors
WOMEN CEOS(a) AND BOARD DIRECTORS IN TOP 200 ASX COMPANIES(b) - 2002 - 2012
(a) CEO - Chief Executive Officer.
(b) 200 ASX Companies - the top 200 companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
Sources: ABS Gender Indicators, Australia, Jul 2012 (cat. no. 4125.0), and Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership
Senior Executives in the Australian Public Service
The Senior Executive Service (SES) forms the senior leadership group of the Australian Public Service (APS). The role of the SES is to provide expertise and policy advice within the APS. SES officers are expected to have high level management and leadership skills.
Women comprised more than half (57%) (Endnote 17) of all Commonwealth public servants in 2012, but despite the proportion of women in senior roles within the APS increasing in recent years, women are still not equally represented in the most senior roles within the APS. (Endnote 18)
In 2012, women made up 39% of the Senior Executive Service (up from 28% in 2002).17 The proportion of women in middle management within the APS was much closer to that of men, with 47% of Executive Level (EL) Managers (up from 36% in 2002) being women. (Endnote 17)
One possible reason for the lack of ‘examples’ of senior women for the current generation in the APS may be due to the marriage bar which was in place until 1966. (Endnote 19) Prior to 1966, women were forced to resign once they married, and were therefore inhibited from progressing their careers. Although it might seem like the removal of the marriage bar happened a long time ago, attitudes and unconscious bias towards women in the workplace have been slow to change. (Endnote 18)
WOMEN SENIOR EXECUTIVE SERVICE MANAGERS IN THE APS(a) - 2002 - 2012
(a) APS - Australian Public Service
Sources: ABS Gender Indicators, Australia, Jul 2012 (cat. no. 4125.0), and Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), State of the Service 2011—12, Chapter 6 Diversity
Although men and women may enter the workplace at similar levels, with similar credentials and career aspirations, their career paths often diverge. (Endnote 20)
Work and family balance
Women may not seek promotion because of family responsibilities, and a lack of family friendly and flexible working environments. Even if women were to have the support necessary to succeed in advancing their career, some women may not be prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to do so. (Endnote 20)
An increasing trend for families with children is where both parents are employed. In 2009–10, both parents were employed in 63% of the 2.3 million couple families with dependent children. (Endnote 21) Although time spent looking after children is usually a responsibility shared among couples, women do usually take on a large share of the caring and nurturing role, whether that be with their children, the household, and increasingly, their elderly parents. (Endnote 22) For example in 2006, women employed full time spent 6 hours and 39 minutes per day taking care of children, compared with men employed full time who spent 3 hours and 43 minutes. The time men spent taking care of children remained unchanged since 1997, whereas for women it increased by 49 minutes.
TOTAL HOURS A DAY SPENT TAKING CARE OF CHILDREN BY PARENTS EMPLOYED FULL TIME(a)(b) - 1997 AND 2006
(a) Parents aged 15 years and over.
(b) Children aged between 0 - 14 years.
Source: ABS Gender Indicators, Australia, Jul 2012 (cat. no. 4125.0)
Boards around the world are under increasing pressure to increase the number of women in senior roles. (Endnote 25)
When it comes to women in leadership, Australia has fallen behind. In 2012, 16% of board directors in the United States were women (compared with 12.3% in Australia). In South Africa 5.3% of board chairs were women (compared with 3.0% in Australia), and in Canada, 6.1% of CEOs were women (compared with 3.5% in Australia). (Endnote 30)
It's not just in the corporate world that Australia has fallen behind. When comparing the proportion of women in national parliaments internationally, Australia's ranking has slipped from 21 to 38 over the past decade. (Endnote 3)
INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS: WOMEN WHO WERE BOARD DIRECTORS, BOARD CHAIRS AND CEOS(a)(b) - 2012
(a) CEO - Chief Executive Officer
(b) Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States were as at August 2012. Australian figures are from November 2012.
Sources: Catalyst, www.catalyst.org/file/728/qt_australia_canada_israel_south_africa_us.pdf and
Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Gender Equality Blueprint 2010 identified women in leadership as one of five key priority areas in achieving gender equality. (Endnote 31) To address the low number of women in senior leadership positions, a number of initiatives have been introduced by both corporate organisations and government.
Corporately, since 2010 the Australian Stock Exchange requires companies to report the numbers of women in senior decision-making roles, set targets and report on their progress each year. (Endnote 32) There have also been positive outcomes following the Australian Institute of Company Directors introducing the Chairmen’s Mentoring Program, which involves Australia’s leading chairs mentoring women over a 12 month period. (Endnote 33)
At the government level, the Commonwealth Government’s Office for Women manages the AppointWomen initiative, which gives women the opportunity to be considered for appointment to a variety of Commonwealth Government boards and other decision making bodies. (Endnote 34) Individual government departments may also have their own initiatives to widen and deepen the pool of future women leaders. (Endnote 35)
Boardlinks is a network established in 2012 to provide more opportunities for women seeking board positions. (Endnote 11) In particular, Boardlinks will focus on strategies to ensure women, who are otherwise skilled and experienced, gain their first board appointment. (Endnote 11)
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