Female minorities in leadership Australia

While Australian companies are increasingly active in their efforts to drive gender equality, it probably won’t surprise you to know that women remain under-represented at every stage of the career pipeline in Australia.

While women make up 42% of all employees, they only make up a quarter of executives and only 10 per cent of CEOs for large, for-profit companies. These numbers are significantly smaller for women of colour and people of marginalised gender.

In September 2019, a study showed that of the 2,490 people who occupy senior positions at ASX-200 companies, 76% had an Anglo-Celtic background, 19% were European, 4.6% non-European and 0.4% were Indigenous. In addition, of those that were still active as female CEOs (10), only one was a woman of colour.

A report presented by Diversity Arts Australia found that over half (51%) of the top ASX-listed organisations surveyed had no culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) representation at any leadership level.

These figures mean Australia trails significantly behind countries like the United States, Canada, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe, despite Australian women experiencing the highest rates of education in the world.

In hopes of motivating more female leaders, I've placed below a few inspiring women trailblazing through leadership in Australia

Kemi Nekvapil

Kemi Nekvapil is empowering women to live and lead without apology.

Kemi is one of Australia’s leading credentialed coaches for female executives and entrepreneurs, an author and a highly sought-after international speaker.

She has studied leadership and purpose at The Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan and trained with Dr Brené Brown to become a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator, working with teams and organisations to create daring leaders and courageous cultures.

Kemi is a facilitator for The Hunger Project Australia, a regular interviewer of industry icons, and she hosts the number one ranking podcast The Shift Series.

She is a powerful advocate for connected, value-based living with a level of compassion and wisdom that can only be gained through extraordinary life experiences.

But achieving all this wasn’t easy.

Kemi Nekvapilin
Kemi Nekvapil

“As a black child raised by five sets of white foster parents (some incredibly loving, some – not so much), I always felt that I had to prove my worth so that I would be 'allowed to stay.' I had to be not only a 'good girl' but a 'good black girl'. I had no say in where I would live or who my new mum and dad would be, or where I would be living next.

And now, with thirty years of personal and professional development in my bones, things have changed,” says Kemi.

You can hear more from the inspiring Kemi via her Youtube channel, which hosts a range of coaching tools, storytelling and case studies so that you can learn how to live and lead without apology – one action at a time.

Khadija Gbla

Khadija Gbla is a high profile, passionate and inspiring African Australian woman.

Khadija was born in Sierra Leone and spent her youth in Gambia. She arrived in Australia as a refugee aged 13 in 2001 and experienced discrimination, ageism, racism, sexism and mountains of stigma. This led to Khadija’s interest in human rights at the very young age of 13. She is now renowned as a human rights activist, and she has extensive involvement with diverse areas of the community. Her experiences have solidified her values of equality and justice.

Khadija Gbla
Khadija Gbla

Khadija has displayed courage and determination as an entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, facilitator, philanthropist, and mentor. Her aspirations include giving women, youth and minority groups a voice at a local, state and international level. Khadija utilises her inspired and powerful voice to advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion.

She provides skilled advocacy, leadership, training, keynote speaking, and commentary on domestic and family violence, mental health, cultural safety, gender diversity, sexual health, racism, human rights, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and cultural diversity.

I encourage you to watch Khadija’s TED Talk "Born a girl in the wrong place" to add some fire in the belly.

10 gender equality practices driving results for Australian companies

The Business Council of Australia, McKinsey & Company and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency teamed up to undertake a study using three years of WGEA data and more than 40 interviews.

They analyzed the quantitative and qualitative data and revealed how gender equality is lived out day-to-day in corporate Australia. Standard practices amongst the high-performing companies became evident, particularly normalising a flexible work environment (preach!).

Here are the ten practices that have proven effective in achieving greater gender equality.

  1. Build a strong case for change
  2. Role-model a commitment to diversity, including with business partners
  3. Redesign roles and work to enable flexible work and normalise uptake across levels and genders
  4. Actively sponsor rising women
  5. Set a clear diversity aspiration, backed up by accountability
  6. Support talent through life transitions
  7. Ensure the infrastructure is in place to support a more inclusive and flexible workplace
  8. Challenge traditional views of merit in recruitment and evaluation
  9. Invest in frontline leader capabilities to drive cultural change
  10. Develop rising women and ensure experience in key roles

Interestingly, the factor most correlated to higher ratios of women in top roles is the percentage of managers who are on part-time programs, a practice classified as ‘normalizing flexible work practices’.

When it comes to executing these top 10 practices, leaders at the high-performing companies showed great skill and sophistication in their ability to tailor the ten practices for their workforce and an increased willingness to break through barriers and address challenges.

The full report – which includes how to execute these practices – can be read online or downloaded as a PDF.

What does the future look like for women in leadership?

According to Business News Australia, it will take 65 years or until 2086 before women make up 40 per cent of line roles in executive leadership teams, based on CEW Census trends from the last five years.

The Census says companies with diverse workplaces regularly show higher levels of productivity, and lack of diversity within positions of power has material consequences. For example, a study by the Australia Human Rights Commission estimated that sexual harassment cost the economy $3.8 billion in 2018, affecting one in three Australian workers.

CEW President Sam Mostyn argues that “maximising how we make use of women in the workforce and in leadership positions is a lever we can pull right now to help Australia prosper post-COVID”.

“We know gender-balanced organisations perform better. It is notable that the top-performing companies, the ASX50, have greater representation of women in senior roles,” Mostyn says.

Renée x

How can The People Practice help?

You’re now inspired to help create change in the system and rally against tradition. Terrific! The next step is to turn your focus to your own company and look at your organisational structure.

Through no fault of your own, you may discover that your workplace may not foster a positive environment for your staff from minority backgrounds to thrive and achieve their full potential. That’s where we can help.

The People Practice can make an independent and informed assessment of your workplace. Our first-hand experience and extensive work in HR can help to integrate practices to support emerging leaders – no matter their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or otherwise.

With the help of the People Practice, you can create a positive impact and help to change the minority into a majority.

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