Growing up in the US in the 1970s , I clearly remember one of the most successful ad campaigns ever – Virginia Slims cigarettes. Their slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby” conjured feelings of women’s equal rights, freedom and emancipation. The actual text on the ad was, “Back then, every man gave his wife at least one day a week out of the house. You’ve come a long way, baby.” And it was true – women HAD come a long way from the days of women practically being confined to the house cooking, cleaning and raising children. But how much progress have we made over the last decade? Not a lot. The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) released the results of its 2010 Census Women in Leadership earlier this month.
There has been very little (hardly a change) improvement in the number of women in senior management and board roles over the past 2 years. Following are the key findings:
|Chairs – ASX 200||2.5%||2.0%|
|CEOs – ASX 200||3.0%||2.0%|
|Board Directors* – ASX 200||8.4%||8.3%|
|Women on Govt Boards||33.4%||33.0%|
|Australian Labour Force||45.3%||45.5%|
Clearly, further action is needed. Gail Kelly, CEO of Westpac and 8th most influential woman in the world according to Forbes magazine, has committed to gender targets in her own workplace. Ms Kelly will double women in senior management from the current 20% to 40% over the next four years. CBA agreed to a similar commitment last month. But is this enough? Norway is the poster child for women on boards. It has had a quota law in place for the past four years stipulating that all publicly traded companies must have between 33 and 50 percent women on the boards (depending on size). Companies that don’t comply face serious fines and even dissolution. France and Spain are enacting similar laws, minus the penalties. Even the Fortune 500 boards in my homeland, the USA, which I’ve always believed to be ahead of Australia in terms of women on top, has an embarrassing 16 percent women. This number hasn’t moved for years. In Europe there are less than 10 percent of women board members; Asia is worse with only 3.6 percent in developed countries and 4.7 percent for emerging markets. JEEZ! So, is there ANY good news? Certainly in Australia, the Government is saying the right things. PM Julia Gillard last week said that targets might not work for all organisations however gender balance needs to be a “dedicated focus”. Will a “focus” be enough? Isn’t that what we have all been trying to do? There is one tangible initiative happening: the Government, together with the Australian Institute of Company Directors, has committed to funding 70 scholarships for women for director education courses. There is a lot of talk in corporate Australia about the need for more women on boards, and this education will certainly help get some women skilled up. What does Australia need to do to ensure a balance of gender in leadership and influential positions? Quotas? More initiatives to encourage businesses to step up? More women? In my opinion it will certainly take a lot more than “focus”. I want to have a conversation with my now 2 year old daughter when she’s 18 and say, “WOW – We’re REALLY come a long way baby!!” Post a comment and have your say.