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Gender equality is one of the hottest topics of the zeitgeist right now. Data shows it’s needed and wanted, but unfortunately, it will look like lip service for a very long time. So let’s talk about the reality for women in corporate Australia.

I’m passionate about diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace, and I am encouraged by the surge of the talk by business and stakeholders. Initiatives like the push for ASX200 companies to fill 40% of executive positions with women by 2030 by HESTA are also significant for gender equality. However, it’s not enough. 

We need to address the pipeline of up and coming women, particularly with the view that women’s careers are not linear. We also need to work on how not to lose good talent just because they have children. The majority of mothers or mothers to be that I meet through my work have every intention to reigniting their careers. However, whether they do or not is often the result of their experience with their employer(s). 

For this gender talk to really work in corporate settings, some Boards and leaders need a cultural mindset overhaul. But what’s that going to take? Will we have to get to a place where stakeholders ask questions about diversity and prioritise other companies over the products, services, or employment offered? Unfortunately, money always talks. 

Back to the pipeline. Let’s say we do meet the goal of 40/40 by 2030. The reality is that too many women are likely to be appointed to support roles – not positions where diversity can influence or make those critical decisions.

Take a look at this data produced by Open Director; see where women are more prevalent across the ASX top 200 to men? 

ASX top 200 C-suite roles held by men and women

HR, Company Secretary and Corporate Affairs positions

These roles, without a doubt, are important and have a significant influence on a company. Still, these roles will not lead to a woman running the business (unless maybe if the business is in the human capital space). One can also argue that these types of roles hardly ever lead to Chairman or Board positions in the short term.

So, How Do We Change the Reality for Women in Corporate Australia?

If Boards and C-Suite do not hit their targets, they are penalised. Why is diversity seen as a quota and not a target?

  • Creating awareness around the forms of unconscious bias in the hiring process.
  • Hire on skills, attributes and values, so the talent pool of diversity is broadened.
  • Make sure interviews are structured and the grading of interviews transparent by all involved. Women often have to work harder during interviews, so HR can help here.
  • And how about some medium to long term talent planning? Why not identify diversity within the ranks or externally and have them mentored by C-suite executives to prepare them for that critical role?
  • Put women in roles that give them responsibility and accountability for the success of a P/L and the bottom line of a business unit. CFO roles too!

Leaders, the facts for why diversity in leadership is vital to the success of a business is well researched, and many are working hard to solve this problem. However, for others, is a sluggish approach to improving diversity worth missing out on creative, innovative, productive, high-quality talent that will contribute to the success of your business? …not to mention how customers and other stakeholders will respond to your business over time. 

There are so many good women out there. Don’t miss out. Let’s stop making excuses.

Leaders, HR specialists, do you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sharon Mackie Goh