Women in leadership

Women in leadership

The 2010 Gender Equality Blueprint identified women in leadership as one of five key priority areas in achieving gender equality.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, has been actively promoting the importance of women’s representation in decision-making roles in the community, government and business sectors.

The Australian context

First and foremost, in virtually all sectors of the paid workforce, women are underrepresented in leadership positions.

Sector Snapshot

Public sector – At June 2011, women comprised 57.5% of all Commonwealth Public Service employees.[1] As at 30 June 2011, women held 35.3 per cent of Government board appointments, with four Government portfolios meeting the gender balance target. [2]

Federal Parliament – In 2012, women make up 24.7% of elected positions in the House of Representatives and 38.2% of the Senate.[3]

Academia – Women account for over half of all academic staff in Australia[4], and make up 42% of senior lecturing staff and 27% of staff above senior lecturer.[5]

Law – 61.4% of all law graduates are female.[6] Women hold only about 22% of the most senior positions in law firms (as partners, principals, directors or in sole practice).[7] In the Federal Court of Australia, women make up only 16% of the bench.[8]

Sports – Only about 22% of board directors in National Sports Organisations (NSOs) are women, and nearly one in five NSOs have no women directors[9]

The statistics in corporate Australia are even more concerning. The EOWA 2010 Australian Census of Women in Leadership shows that only 8.4% of Board Directorships are held by women. Further, 54% of ASX200 companies had no women Board Directors in 2010 – a number which has steadily increased from 49.7% since 2004.[10]

Alarmingly, the number of women board directors has increased only 0.2% since 2002.

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) has been collecting workplace leadership data since 2002. Through their work, it becomes evident that there has been minimal improvement in gender disparity in ASX companies.

The international context

The international context of women in leadership is another compelling reason for reform in Australia. Currently, when compared with New Zealand, the US, Canada and South Africa, Australia has the lowest percentage of women on boards. When compared with the UK, US, Canada and South Africa Australia the lowest percentage of Executive Key Management Staff Personnel.[8] This lag behind comparable nations is concerning.

Internationally, there have been significant developments in the area of women on boards, with promising reforms being implemented to strengthen the representation of women at decision making levels. In countries such as Norway and Spain governments have introduced mandatory quotas that require a specific percentage of women to sit on boards and in other leadership roles. Other European countries such as France are also considering implementing a mandatory quota system.

How we shape up next to our neighbours
Overall, Australia is ranked third in the Asia-Pacific Region, behind New Zealand and the Philippines.
New Zealand, a country often seen as very similar to Australia, sits significantly higher in the rankings, placing 6th overall.
Australia substantially lags behind the top 2 Asia-Pacific countries in the area of political empowerment. Australia ranks 38th overall in this area, compared to New Zealand (8th) and the Philippines (16th).

The Global Gender Gap Index shows Australia dropped eight rankings in the Global Gender Gap Index rankings between 2006 and 2011, from 15th to 23rd. This indicates that improvements in the gender gap in Australia are not progressing at the same rate as other nations.

Australia has a slow rate of progress, despite being ranked equal first in 2011 for educational attainment. This indicates that there are significant deficits in other examined areas.[12] Areas that negatively affected Australia’s ranking include women in ministerial positions, where Australia ranked 41st, and wage equality for similar work, where Australia ranked 76th.

Why is women in leadership a priority?

Gender disparity in Australian workplaces, such as the disparity between men and women in leadership roles, perpetuates existing stereotypes about the role of women, both at work and in wider society, and exacerbates gender pay inequity. Further, research has shown that having significant numbers of women in leadership positions encourages and sustains other women. This means that unless systemic change in gender diversity in leadership is achieved, there is limited chance of the disparity improving on its own.

In addition to the evident need for substantive gender equality, there are a number of advantages in promoting women in leadership:

  • Women are in fact more likely than their male counterparts to have relevant post-graduate qualifications. This is despite their tendency to undervalue their own skills and to be less forthcoming in pursuing leadership positions.[13]
  • Economically, it is a worthwhile investment. According to Goldman Sachs, narrowing the gap between male and female employment rates would have huge implications for the global economy – in Australia it would boost our GDP by 11%.[14]
  • Further, the current gender bias means that women are employed in roles where their productivity is not maximised. If the gender productivity gap was minimised, for example, by increasing the number of women in leadership positions, the level of economic activity in Australia could be boosted by 20%.[15]
  • Economic incentives such as these would have flow-on effects for wider society as well. It would assist in addressing the problem of pension sustainability, thereby reducing the dependency ratio, lifting household savings rates and increasing tax received by the government.[16]

What are Commissioner Broderick’s aims for women in leadership?

Commissioner Broderick aims to address both gender inequality in the work force and the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles, particularly in Australian business. Two outcomes will be achieved through the promotion of women in leadership. These are a significant growth in the number of women in senior leadership roles in Australian workplaces and the implementation of systems within workplaces to sustain durable gender equality outcomes.

In the 2010 Gender Equality Blueprint, Commissioner Broderick put forward recommendations on how these outcomes could be achieved.

Recommendation 7

To strengthen the representation of women at decision-making levels:

  • a minimum target of 40% representation of each gender on all Australian Government Boards within three years should be set, publicly announced and progress should be reported annually
  • a minimum gender equality target in the Senior Executive Service in the Australian Public Service should be set, publicly announced and progress should be reported annually
  • all publicly listed companies providing goods or services to the Australian Government should be certified by the Equal Opportunity in the Workplace Agency
  • a target of 40% representation of each gender on all publicly listed Boards in Australia, to be achieved over five years should be promoted. If progress is not made, the Australian Government should consider legislating to require publicly listed companies and other large employers to achieve a mandatory gender diversity quota of a minimum of 40% of both genders within a specified timeframe, failing which penalties will be imposed.

Recommendation 8

To lift the profile and voices of women who are making a genuine difference in their communities:

  • women’s organisations and representatives should be specifically and adequately supported to participate fully in local, national, regional and international policy and decision-making processes
  • meaningful and ongoing consultation with grassroots communities, women’s organisations and women’s alliances should be undertaken in the development of government policy
  • Australian delegations to regional or international intergovernmental bodies should reflect the diversity of women in Australia.

Throughout 2010, and continuing into 2011, Commissioner Broderick has been involved in a number of strategies designed to make these recommendations a reality.

How has Commissioner Broderick been working towards reform?

Women on Boards

ASX reform

Commissioner Broderick has been working closely with the ASX Corporate Governance Council towards her recommendation of 40% representation of each gender on the boards of publicly listed companies in Australia. Significantly, as of 1 January 2011, the ASX Corporate Governance Council has implemented a diversity policy that requires all publicly listed companies in Australia to set gender diversity targets. These companies will be required to report on their targets and provide explanations if they are not in place.

Anticipation of ASX reforms resulted in a 600% increase in female board appointments in the corporate sector.

Despite the ASX policy only formally coming into effect in January 2011, anticipation of the reforms had a positive impact on women in ASX leadership in 2010. By the end of 2010, women comprised 27% of all new board appointments, compared with 5% in 2009 – a 600% increase.[17]This took the number of female appointments to 59 in 2010, eclipsing the 10 female appointments in 2009.[18]  61 women were appointed to ASX200 boards in 2011.  As at April 2012, 14% of directors in the ASX 200 are women, compared with 13.4% in 2011. [19]

To assist companies in implementing the ASX Corporate Governance Council diversity recommendations, the Australian Council of Hufman Rights Agencies (ACHRA) has issued a guide on complying with anti-discrimination legislation for federal, state and territory jurisdictions. This can guide listed entities on how they can structure their diversity measures to comply with these laws. The guide can be accessed at

Public sector reform

In late 2010, the Gillard federal government announced that a target of 40% women, 40% men and 20% unallocated will apply to government boards. The target applies to each portfolio [20].   In October 2011, the the Minister for Finance and Deregulation announced this would be extended to major government business enterprises such as Australia Post and Medibank Private.[21]The Government aims to achieve the targets by 2015. At 30 June 2011, the percentage of women on Australian Government boards was at 35.3 per cent. The South Australian and Australian Capital Territory Governments have also put similar targets in place.

Male Champions of Change

In April 2010, Commissioner Broderick was instrumental in bringing together some of Australia’s most influential and diverse male CEOs and Chairpersons to form the Male Champions of Change group. The group aims to use their individual and collective influence and commitment to ensure the issue of women’s representation in leadership is elevated on the national business agenda.

Women in Male Dominated Industries

In virtually all sectors of Australia’s paid workforce, women continue to be underrepresented in senior leadership positions. In some industries, women are underrepresented at all levels of the organisation. These are known as ‘male-dominated industries’.

With this in mind, the Commonwealth Office for Women has funded the Australian Human Rights Commission to identify mechanisms for improving women’s representation and leadership in male-dominated roles in male-dominated industries.

Women of Influence

In November 2008, with assistance from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Commissioner Broderick facilitated the first Women of Influence Workshop in conjunction with Kerrie Tim of FaHCSIA. The workshop was attended by five Indigenous women leaders and eight non Indigenous women leaders. There was a particular focus on relationship-building and networking, as well as on creating a dialogue around race relations and reconciliation between the participants. Many of the participants noted that relationship-building and sharing were crucial in creating unique networks and establishing ties with other female leaders. These connections were intended to bring about increased leadership and other projects.[22]

Recent speeches and media releases

Delivering Diversity
Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination, Women in Banking and Finance, 22 November 2010

Getting women off the bench: A gender equality blueprint for 2010
Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination,
National Press Club, Canberra, Wednesday 23 June 2010

What Does a World of Gender Equality Look Like?
Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination, Insights - A fresh look at Girl's Education conference, Melbourne, 17 June 2010

Is there merit in quotas? The Australian context
Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination, Sydney, 2 September 2009.

Unchanged census results point to the need for continued radical change (6 October 2010)

Gender Equality Blueprint 2010 is the way forward (23 June 2010)

Related links

ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, Advantages and Disadvantages of Legislated Quotas for Women’s Representation (aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/pc/pca/pca03/pca03a/pca03a1)

Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, 2010 EOWA Australian Census of Women in Leadership (www.eowa.gov.au/Australian_Women_In_Leadership_Census/2010_Australian_Women_In_Leadership_Census.asp)

ASX Corporate Governance Council, ASX Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations with 2010 amendments (www.asx.net.au/about/corporate_governance/index.htm)

Knowledge@Australian School of Business, Gender Mender: Are women getting even at last? (28 June 2010) (knowledge.asb.unsw.edu.au/article.cfm?articleid=1173)

World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2010 (www.weforum.org/pdf/gendergap/report2010.pdf)

Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society (www.womens-forum.com/)

Catalyst (www.catalyst.org/)

Australian Institute of Company Directors, Gender diversity on boards – statistics
(http://www.companydirectors.com.au/Director-Resource-Centre/Governance-and-Director-Issues/Board-Diversity/Statistics)


[1] Australian Public Service Commission, Statistical Bulletin 2010/2011, at http://www.apsc.gov.au/stateoftheservice/1011/statsbulletin/index.html, viewed 04.04.2012

[2] Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Women on Australian Government Boards Report 2009 - 2010, at http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/women/pubs/govtint/Pages/women_aus_govt_board_rpt_2010.aspx#sec_1

[3] McCann, J., Wilson, J. (2012), Parliamentary Library, Background note: Representation of women in Australian parliaments, 7 March 2012, at

[4] Pyke, J. (2012) Women, choice and promotion: why women are still a minority in the professoriate, LH Martin Institute, Insights blog, at http://www.lhmartininstitute.edu.au/insights-blog/2012/03/80-women-choice-and-promotion-why-women-are-still-a-minority-in-the-professoriate, viewed 04.04.2012

[5] Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Staff 2011: Selected Higher Education Statistics, Table 2.9 Number of Full-time and Fractional Full-time Staff by Age Group, Current Duties Classification and Gender, 2011, at http://www.deewr.gov.au/HigherEducation/Publications/HEStatistics/Public..., viewed 04.04.2012

[6] Graduate Careers Australia, ‘Grads Jobs and Dollars’, Australian Graduate Survey, at http://www.graduatecareers.com.au/Research/GradJobsDollars/index.htm, viewed 04.04.2012

[7] Van Onselen, A (2011),‘Gender gap in the judiciary is still way too wide’,The Australian, 8 July, at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/legal-affairs/gender-gap-in-the... (viewed 20.07.2011)

[8] Federal Court of Australia, List of appointment date of current judges, at www.fedcourt.gov.au/aboutct/jj_seniority.html, viewed 04.04.2012

[9] Adriaanse, J. (2011), ‘What’s the score with women on sport boards?’, The Conversation, at http://theconversation.edu.au/whats-the-score-with-women-on-sport-boards..., 19 May, viewed 04.04.2012

[10] EOWA Australian Census of Women in Leadership (2010), at www.eowa.gov.au/Australian_Women_In_Leadership_Census/2010_Australian_Women_In_Leadership_Census.asp

[11] EOWA Australian Census of Women in Leadership (2010), at www.eowa.gov.au/Australian_Women_In_Leadership_Census/2010_Australian_Women_In_Leadership_Census.asp

[12] World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2011 (2011), at http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-2011/

[13] C Chesterman, A Ross-Smith, M Peters, Senior Women Executives and the Cultures of Management, (June 2004)

[14] Goldman Sachs JB Were Investment Research, Australia’s Hidden Resource: The Economic Case for Increasing Female Participation, (2009), at
www.eowa.gov.au/Pay_Equity/Files/Australias_hidden_resource.pdf

[15] Goldman Sachs JB Were Investment Research, Australia’s Hidden Resource: The Economic Case for Increasing Female Participation, (2009), at
www.eowa.gov.au/Pay_Equity/Files/Australias_hidden_resource.pdf

[16] Goldman Sachs JB Were Investment Research, Australia’s Hidden Resource: The Economic Case for Increasing Female Participation, (2009), at
www.eowa.gov.au/Pay_Equity/Files/Australias_hidden_resource.pdf

[17] Australian Institute of Company Directors, Gender Diversity on Boards – statistics, at
http://www.companydirectors.com.au/Director-Resource-Centre/Governance-and-Director-Issues/Board-Diversity/Statistics

[18] Australian Institute of Company Directors, Gender Diversity on Boards – statistics, at
http://www.companydirectors.com.au/Director-Resource-Centre/Governance-and-Director-Issues/Board-Diversity/Statistics

[19]http://www.eowa.gov.au/Research_And_Resources.asp

[20] http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/women/pubs/govtint/Pages/gender_balance_rpt_2010_2011.aspx

[21]http://www.financeminister.gov.au/media/2011/mr_2102011.html

[22] Australian Human Rights Commission, Women of Influence Feedback on Workshop 1 Draft Report and Recommendations, (May 2009)