Helen, what have you observed about women in senior positions in the Australian public and private sector?
57 percent of the Australian Public Service are women, yet less than 40 percent hold senior executive roles, whilst in the top 200 companies listed on the Australian stock exchange, only 10 percent of senior executives are women, a pattern that is replicated in private sector businesses across the developed world. Yet looking at percentages does not tell the whole story. The public agencies with the highest proportion of women executives are the social services departments such as health and education. And in companies women’s careers are most likely to advance in the HR or legal functions and less in the operating or industrial business, the generally accepted pipeline to more senior leadership roles. This shows that regulatory and structural reforms have not been enough to move towards gender parity. Invisible barriers are still prevalent and need to be addressed.
What is the business case for gender balance in senior leadership roles and in teams more generally?
Research has demonstrated consistently the business case for gender diversity. It improves organizational performance and decision making. It provides a greater access to a top talent pool. It makes an organization an employer of choice for women. It means the organization more closely reflects and understands its customers and stakeholders.
Can the public and private sector learn from each other to change the situation?
While gender parity in leadership is lacking in both sectors, the public sector has a better balance than the private sector. In Australia, this is because programs to remove barriers to women in recruiting or establish flexible working practices were introduced early, in the 1980s. However, the public sector is worse at performing a consistent and target oriented talent management. I am a great believer in formal sponsorship as one of the most effective tools for promoting women to senior executive positions both in business and government. I have seen sponsorship work in my previous career with the Government of Victoria, and I am pleased to see that Allianz has embarked on its own Sponsorship for Diverse Leadership program. Nothing is more effective in promoting women to senior levels than the endorsement and commitment of the CEO and top management. And addressing cultural issues such as unconscious bias and changing working practices is certainly as crucial for business as it has been for government.