Gender equality in leadership roles in corporate Australia; NAWO lead a discussion

By Suzie McInerney

Published on 23-10-2015

Gender equality in leadership roles in corporate Australia

I recently attended a NAWO (National Association of Woman in Operations) Industry Solutions Event. The topic: gender equality in leadership roles in corporate Australia. The impressive panel was moderated by long-time friend of Six Degrees Angela Tatlis (Founder and Chair of NAWO).


My role at Six Degrees is to lead a team (which just so happens to be predominantly female) and unearth exceptional executive talent across the marketing and retail sectors. My clients are increasingly concerned about gender equality at the executive level but unsure how to bridge the gap. Below is a summary of some of the key points raised at the NAWO event.

The MACRO Story

  1.  The economic argument has been around for a very long time now and is generally very well accepted;
  2. 85% of senior leaders in Australia are men and so it is male leaders who need to step up and instigate change;
  3. Australia is one of the best tertiary educators of women in the world but one of the lowest in the OECD in terms of workforce participation. The statistics at leadership levels in this country just do not make sense.

The next logical question is: How do we bridge the talent gap?

  1. Merit based selection is fundamental, but what is merit – outcomes, potential, or likeness? We often hire likeness, precluding women on both background and behaviour;
  2. Leaders need to engage in conversation about WHO is being recruited, WHO is being promoted and WHO is getting sponsored in their organisations. This needs to be as top of mind as safety, cost and revenue;
  3. Actively seek up and coming talent at the lower levels in the organisation and make sure they have suitable sponsors;

Research consistently confirms that women are reluctant to put their hand up for opportunities unless they are 100% ready so make it easier for women to put themselves forward, and make the time to explain the attributes they possess that are valued;

  1. Men and woman need to challenge what are considered ‘core hours’ particularly in this day of e-enablement and global matrix reporting.
  2. Ask yourself “what is the role modelling that goes on in our workplace” and what does this say about us as an organisation? Set the example – make sure you tell people when you are picking up the kids or dropping them to school.

What can your organisation do to drive the diversity agenda? 

  1. Reliance on policy to drive change is now past - policy is just the “hygiene factor”. Actions need to be significant and sustained over the mid-long term;
  2. Business models are changing from “a requirement for depth” to “a requirement for breadth” – this change opens up great opportunity for recruiting women into key leadership positions (who may not have depth of experience but have fabulous breadth of experience);
  3. There is going to be a tipping point at which change will occur quite quickly. We need to be acting right now – how do we continue to bring enough women into key management positions?
  4. Consider how at BP, Telstra and ANZ every role can be worked flexibly until proved otherwise (flipping the normal test on its head).

Arguably the one key overarching takeaway from this event was that by creating the right environment for improved gender diversity in the workplace, we are actually making workplaces more supportive for EVERY person. Smart business really is everyone’s business.

To get in touch with NAWO please visit their website



Suzie McInerney