Conference Explores Lack of Women Leaders

Conference Explores Lack of Women Leaders

Conference Explores Lack of Women Leaders

The Macquarie University Women, Management and Work Conference will investigate and provide solutions to increase the number of women elected to parliament, appointed to boards and senior management positions and achieving salary equity.

The leading women speakers will discuss equal opportunity in the workplace and strategies to achieve higher levels of women in leadership roles throughout Australia. It will encourage and inspire women to succeed in the workforce.

Conference co-chair Melanie O'Connor says, "The conference has been running for 22 years, yet 22 years later we are still looking for solutions to these intractable issues. Although many Australians do not want to hear it, gender continues to act as an insidious barrier."

"Research by Associate Professor McGraw published in The 2008 Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency Census highlights some alarming statistics which show that women do not form the majority in any category of senior job position in any industry in Australia."

"Not surprisingly, not a single industry in Australia pays women more than they do men and most pay them less."

"In 2008, there were four female CEOs in the top ASX200 companies in Australia or two percent, down from three per cent in 2006. 106 companies in the top ASX200 do not have a single woman on their boards. A new update of the Macquarie/EOWA research featuring 2010 data will be released by the time of the conference," said Ms O'Connor.

Topics discussed over the two days include: how to get on a board, how to get on an executive team, coaching and mentoring, promotion and development in your job, balancing the risks and rewards as well as inspiring leadership success stories. This year also includes topics on starting your own business.

There are over 20 inspiring and leading speakers including:
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister for Housing; Minister for the Status of Women
Brigadier Simone Wilkie AM, Director General Training, Headquarters Forces Command
Heather Ridout, Chief Executive, Australian Industry Group
Andrea Grant, Group Managing Director Human Resources, Telstra
Mia Freedman, Journalist, columnist, author and media consultant

Women, Management and Work Conference: 29 - 30 July
Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, 61-101 Phillip St, Sydney

Interview with Claire Braund

Claire Braund is the Executive Director for Women on Boards

Why is there not an equal opportunity in the workplace (pay, positions) for females?

Claire Braund: Good question. From a legislative perspective there is, as companies by law are not allowed to pay men more than women for the same work. However the reality is far removed from this - with an overall gender pay gap of 11 per cent between men and women for work of equal status and value.

A report titled Understanding the Economic Implications of the Gender Pay Gap - the Diversity Council of Australia & KPMG - found that:

  • sex discrimination and unknown factors accounts for 35 per cent of the gap:
  • occupational segregation, where the differences in types of occupations in which males and females work account for 18 per cent of the gap.
  • working part-time, which accounts for 14 per cent of the gap;
  • segregation by industry sector which accounts for 10 per cent of the gap
  • the length of time women spend out of the workforce , work interruptions, accounts for 9 per cent of the gap.

    Are you surprised at the statistics presented; such as "there were four female CEOs in the top ASX200 companies in Australia or two percent, down from three per cent in 2006. 106 companies in the top ASX200 do not have a single woman on their boards?"

    Claire Braund: I am not at all surprised - it's been the same for decades - and will likely remain that way unless chairs and CEOs set gender targets, tie them to the KPIs and commit to changing the culture of their organisations.

    Do you believe that although equal pay is the law, it has not been implemented in most businesses throughout Australia?

    Claire Braund: It's not a case of what I believe, but what the numbers say. A report titled Australia's Hidden Resource: The Economic Case for Increasing Female Workforce Participation by Tim Toohey, Chief Economist at Goldman Sachs JBWere, found that despite higher educational attainment and the dominance of females in three main industries, there is not a single industry sector in Australia that females are paid more than males. This is evident regardless of whether the comparison is done on the basis of aggregate hourly (GSJBW study) earnings or hourly full time earnings. Top of the list is the financial & insurance services at 27%, against the 11% average. In a recent survey of women and men in financial services, the majority view was that the gender pay gap was exaggerated!

    What strategies can you suggest to achieve higher levels of women in leadership roles throughout Australia?

    Claire Braund: 1. Ensure gender is part of diversity policy.
    2. Set internal targets for gender diversity in senior ranks and make it a key performance indicator for the CEO and executive team.
    3. Require the percentage of short-listed applicants for all senior jobs to reflect the percentage of women coming through the company ranks.
    4. Commission a gender pay audit and disclose this.
    5. Encourage senior men to take up some of the excellent flexible work options available at Westpac.
    6. Review the number of women lost between middle to senior management and ask them why they are leaving.
    7. Audit the true financial cost to the company (now and projected) of this loss of human capital.
    8. Look at the cultural impediments to women achieving senior management roles and implement interventionist programs to affect change.

    What can women do to prove they are as good of a candidate, as a male co-worker, for a raise or a promotion?

    Claire Braund: In most cases women who achieve senior leadership roles have to be a better candidate than their male counterparts or they simply would not have been given the job. The reality is that in the tough world of promotion, Performance accounts for about 10 per cent, Image 30 per cent and Exposure 60 per cent. So the key is to get known, build relationships and seek opportunities.

    As most CEO and senior management positions are already held by men, does this discourage women from aiming to reach these senior positions?

    Claire Braund: It would be good to be able to say that this provides an inducement, but the reality for many women is that they look at the declining number of positions available the further up the company ladder you climb and see disproportionate numbers of men to women in these roles, and feel somewhat despondent. Particularly when the talent pool from which leaders are drawn is more likely to be at least 50/50 men and women in most organisations. As an excellent and recently released report, The great disappearing act: Gender parity up the corporate ladder, by Bain & Company, found: "In recent years, while women gained ground on gender equality issues like discrimination and harassment, they continued to struggle on gender parity issues like career development and access to leadership positions. As they try to balance priorities such as career-building and care-giving, often they find themselves slipping behind in the race to the top.

    While many organisations offer myriad flexible-work programs to help women return to the workforce, few currently have innovative promotion policies or growth paths in place that rejuvenate the careers of employees (male or female) who return to the fold after a break of few years. Increasingly, instead of languishing in stalled careers, women opt to become entrepreneurs. Every day in the US, 1,600 new businesses are started by women entrepreneurs. Women-owned businesses are growing at twice the rate as all other businesses." This trend is similar in Australia.

    Will the paid parental leave have an impact on equal opportunity in the workplace when it is increased?

    Claire Braund: Jury is out on this one. It will certainly ease the economic burden for many women and families, however it will probably have little impact on the issues outlined in the Bain report.

    How can women strive to become board members of top Australian companies and change gender attitudes?

    Claire Braund: Women are already striving to become board members of top Australian companies and have been seeking to change attitudes to gender for decades. The main reason they have not succeeded is that Australia is an inherently conservative and comfortable society with entrenched cultural attitudes and norms. It is these, and the power imbalance between men and women, which needs to change, not women.

    In the future do you see a greater number of women being elected to parliament?

    Claire Braund: Only if the major parties overhaul their rather archaic structures and constitutions and pre-select them in safe seats.

    Claire will be speaking at the Macquarie University Women, Management and Work Conference on the 29th and 30th of July.

    Claire will be presenting on the topic 'How to get on an executive team' which will include an overview of what it takes to be a director and will provide helpful strategies for including board work in careers.

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