leadership

Survey reveals women are missing from the senior ranks of small business

Engel Schmidl /

Small- to medium-sized companies are lagging behind bigger companies in hiring and promoting women into their senior ranks, according to a new survey.

A survey of 1,200 chief executives conducted for Chief Executive Women by Dun & Bradstreet found that more than 75% of SMEs have no women in their senior management teams and have no intention of appointing any.

The survey did not include women owners of small business as members of senior management teams in its calculations.

Of these SMEs more than 65% do not require there to be female candidates on the short list for senior roles.

Christine Christian, former chief executive of Dun & Bradstreet Australia and vice-president of CEW, told SmartCompany the attitudes of businesses generating $500 million or less a year were in “stark contrast” to the top end of town, which has a significant resource pool to draw from.

“Unlike their large counterparts small businesses are expending most of their resources and energy at the moment in just remaining competitive,” says Christian.

“They are operating in a very uncertain environment with the landscape changing and technology and they are focused on maintaining margins and profitability. They are not creating enough head room to think strategically about their businesses and future-proof their business.”

Christian says discussion around gender has been focused on bigger companies and has ignored the largest employer by volume, small business.

“All the evidence suggests that a business that focuses on diversity outperforms its competitors, so more needs to be done to support small and medium businesses increase female participation in management.

“It is no longer a fad or rhetoric; the hard facts are available.”

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Australia, said he was surprised by the survey results.

“You think by the nature of the market place out there it would be 50/50, and I see a lot of women in small business,” he says.

“Not many small businesses I know of would say they would never put a woman on; that means they wouldn’t have any workers.

“If you look at the boards of some large business associations they don’t have any women at all. We have three women on the COSBOA board out of nine people. We are very aware of that.”

Strong says the survey results may be so pointed because of the broad definition used of an SME and the way the questions were structured.

“Most small businesses don’t have senior management teams. If you employ less than five people then that is the team; it is not the senior team or the junior team, it is the team,” says Strong.

“If this shows that women need to be considered more for senior management positions then I certainly support that, but you don’t really have senior management positions in small firms.

“In small business it is a rare thing to consider gender when finding someone to work with you, you look at skills every time.”

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