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Minnie Behn-Katz

Director of Publications

The Cut: Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Again and Again.

In light of International Women’s Week, it’s imperative that women are aware of the industry they are working to thrive in. The corporate field is ripe with opportunity and self-fulfilment within your career, but it’s also important to understand the current state of the corporate climate, and how you can be part of changing it for the better.

As women, it’s well known that we’ve arrived late to the party in terms of holding higher positions in business. The glass ceiling is constantly being shattered, almost as fast as it is being rebuilt, but it’s essential to realise that breaking this ceiling is only one step in the road to creating an equal space in which all members (of every gender, or non gender) can coexist, and yes, even compete.

From the perspective of a female, we enter 2020 with the shorter straw; of the top 200 companies in Australia, only 6% are led by women in executive roles – In fact, this statistic has decreased from 7% in 2018. Out of these 200 firms, some don’t even have a single female employed in their executive team – all facts aside, this just isn’t good enough.  

The 2019 annual census by Chief Executive Women (CEW) in Australia, which represents 560 of Australia’s most senior female corporate leaders, exposes this slow progress towards achieving a balance in gender within corporate Australia. They also highlight the fact that gender equality in this market can be generations away. Sue Morphet, CEW president, expresses her disappointment with these statistics, stating,  "There are some figures saying that we'll be waiting about 80 years for it to be equal, which means my granddaughter will be 84 by the time we have equal representation".

On a brighter note, the statistic of women appointed as Chief Financial Officer within the ASX200 has increased to around 16%, from 12% in 2018. Although these low statistics may be disheartening for women seeking to be future CFO’s (or even CEO’s), this is definitely a step in the right direction.

One consequence of these low statistics of women in executive roles is the carry-on effect it has to the next generation of leaders within corporate Australia. It’s well known that a reliable mentor is a distinct competitive advantage within the corporate environment. Having someone to ‘show you the ropes’ within the industry significantly increases your chance of advancement and success within the field. According to Forbes, mentoring offers a myriad of professional benefits, such as promotions, raises and an increase in opportunities. So, in effect, by having such a low percentage of possible female mentors and role models within the corporate environment in Australia, there is an equally limited number of mentees that can learn from them, as compared to male role models in the same field. Of course, that is not to say that male executives have an inability to mentor female workers, but there is a widespread reluctance for cross-gender mentoring within the industry, especially within the #MeToo era.

Similarly Morphet explores this idea of gender imbalance within the industry, both as prospective leaders, as well as mentees, with, "It's not so much the blokes club as the fact that men don't recognise the talent that exists in the women within their organisation". Both genders need to work towards creating a safe and supportive environment that fosters equal involvement, as well as levelling the playing field for those who are disadvantaged by not having access to mentorship. Additionally, having a female mentor provides female mentees with an inherent insight as to the innately gender-specific challenges faced by women in the workplace. In comparison, as a female mentee, having a male mentor allows for a more complex understanding of the corporate environment as it currently exists.

This conversation of equal gender in the workplace is largely complex, and obviously cannot be solved by a single change, it’s a road that we all must embark upon, and work towards in light of a more encompassing corporate environment in Australia.

The Facts

  • In 2019, 25 new chief executives were appointed. 2 were female.
  • The percentage of females in ASX 200 CEO roles has decreased from 7% to 6%
  • 17 of these top 200 firms have no women at all in executive leadership teams
  •  114 have no women in ‘line’ roles reporting to an executive leadership team.
  • The percentage of women in ASX200 CFO roles has increased from 12% to 16%


More Sources / Further Reading