Female leadership on the rise, report shows

Women are slowly making advances into senior leadership roles.


The proportion of females in leadership roles is rising, according to the Gender Indicators, Australia report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) this year.

While female leadership is increasing, the rate is very slow. Between 2014/15 and 2016/17 the proportion of female CEOs in the non-public sector increased from 15.4 per cent to 16.5 per cent.

Monash University  Department of Management lecturer Dr Sarah Lindsay, said the slow growth could be attributed to a lack of opportunity.

“Where it is the case, I think it’s because there has been less opportunity for women, perhaps in a male-dominated industry or an organisation within it that has very precise ideals of what it is to be an elite or talented performer,” Dr Lindsay said.

“Sometimes those things might preclude women and what we’re finding is, and it’s preliminary, but they are precluding women because women may not be given the opportunity to perform like that.”

The report found more notable improvement in leadership positions within the public sector. Females comprised 49 per cent of executive level staff in 2017, a 6 per cent increase over 10 years, and 43 per cent of senior executive service managers, an 8 per cent increase over the same period.

ABS program manager Dean Bowley said significant increases were being seen in leadership roles that helped influence decisions within organisations.

“The proportion of female key management personnel, general managers and other executives increased by three percentage points with females now occupying around 30 per cent of these roles,” Mr Bowley said.

Dr Lindsay said the strategies used by organisations to increase female leadership varied across industries.

“Some have just actively gone out and said we’re going to have quotas for pretty much everything. And those quotas are going to be things like 40-40-20, so 40 per cent males, 40 per cent females and a fluid 20 of other things.”

“Others are doing it in the sense that how they define value, contribution and performance at work is very different. So they’ve moved away entirely from narrow ideas of what it takes to be a star performer and they say well everybody has something to offer here.”

For the rate of female leadership to continue rising, Dr Lindsay said organisations must recognise the depth of change that is required.

“Diversity isn’t just something you can buy or recruit, it actually means real change in organisations and change to ideas of work, value and contribution.”