The federal gender watchdog wants quotas for women in management and is calling for bosses who fail to promote women to have their bonuses docked.
The push by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency follows EOWA’s release of its 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership, which reveals women make up only 9.2% of the executives in the ASX 500.
The census found only 12 ASX 500 companies have female chief executives. However, some progress has been made in the number of women on boards, with 61.5% of ASX 200 companies having at least one female director.
The EOWA has called for businesses to set numerical targets for women at leadership and management levels and for managers to be held to account – and remunerated – for delivering results against these targets, and ensuring that women aren’t left on the sidelines.
Helen Conway, director of EOWA, told SmartCompany businesses have failed to develop and maintain a strong pipeline of female talent – evident in the negligible growth in female executive management.
“Almost two-thirds of ASX 500 companies have no female executives. When you look internationally, Australia has the lowest percentage of female executives compared to countries with similar government structures,” Conway says.
Conway says the rise in the number of women appointed to boards “is the result of a lot of focus in that space”, particularly work done by the Australian Institute of Company Directors to educate women and sponsor women.
“But it is hard to get them through the executive ranks and that is manifesting in negative growth,” Conway says.
She says there are two main causes of this: firstly, employers who are “not coming to grips with the impact of family on people’s lives”; and, secondly, workplace cultures and structures that are unhelpful to gender equality.
“I think for SMES they often find it difficult to know how to deal with this issue, as they don’t have the resources that larger organisations have. So it is often very challenging for small, tightly resourced companies and businesses to take action in this space,” Conway says.
“We know that women are very innovative, so small business does benefit a lot from the impact of women. The question is how do they get more women into their business and hold onto them.”
The Diversity Council Australia agrees that “much more” needs to be done to address the lack of leadership in the business community.
Nareen Young, chief executive of the DCA, said Australia still has “a hell of a long way to go” and pressure had to be kept on businesses.
“The small number of female executives and women in line management positions is even more alarming for future trends, given these roles are usually the pathway to the CEO level,” said Young.
“I worry that organisations are increasingly fishing from the same small pool of women.”