Australian women behind the eightball
Director of Equal Opportunity for Women in workplace, Helen Conway.
I can't even imagine such a thing being published in Australia. Well, I can imagine power lists. We have them every year - the top this; the top that; the most influential.
But in Britain last week, Timewise Jobs, with Ernst & Young, published a list of examples of senior-level part-time workers in Britain. There were 50 on the list. That's not the only top people - but they were the ones chosen in order to show that it was possible to work part-time and be influential. Or be powerful.
Women hold a little more than 12 per cent of ASX 200 directorships.
Of course, some commentators were moaning that on the list of 50, only six are men. Which shows that it is still women in Britain (and universally) who take responsibility for most of what we call juggling - the balance of work and family life.
The list was greeted with some enthusiasm in Britain because it showed there was some progress, some change in the rules that meant that women can now perform at a top level while working part-time. The list is impressive. While there are plenty on it who work at non-government organisations, such as the Fairtrade Foundation, where you might expect a bit more flexibility, there is also Lea Paterson, the most senior woman at the Bank of England, who heads the Inflation Report and Bulletin Division. She works part-time so she can spend time with her three children. And Vicki O'Brien, who is head of Heathrow Customer Service for British Airways. She has two kids. And Anna Skoglund, who is managing director of the Investment Banking Division at Goldman Sachs International and is a new mother this year.
And all this comes as Helen Conway, director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, today releases the 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership.
The results are completely infuriating. The past 10 years have seen almost no change for women in the top ranks in Australia. Or the changes are from such a low base that it is hard to applaud the increases.
While it is true there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of women who hold executive key management roles in ASX top 200 companies from 2010 to 2012, we are talking about a move from eight per cent to 9.7 per cent. It's glacial. And there has also been a tiny increase in the number of companies that have at least one female executive key management personnel. That's gone from a little more than 38 per cent to just more than 39 per cent. About two-thirds of ASX 500 companies have no women - at all - in their senior management team. In fact, there are only seven women who are chief executive officers of companies listed in the top 200 listed Australian companies. And that's where the real power is, of course - running the entire company. That's how you get to manage culture and make change.
But even at the more symbolic level, as directors of companies, the percentage is ludicrously low. Women hold a little more than 12 per cent of ASX 200 directorships. It looks like a massive increase from 2010, nearly 50 per cent. But then that's just because two years ago the figure was a little more than eight per cent.
Conway says that employers should adopt the recommendations of the Australian Stock Exchange's Corporate Governance, which says that there should be targets for women at leadership and management levels. Of course. But recommendations aren't making anybody do anything. It's the making that will make change. When Conway says managers should be held to account for delivering results against these targets, I want more than just fat bonuses for those who've watched over this for years and not effected change.
I think it's about time companies were fined for not complying. While I'm pleased that the new Workplace Gender Equality Act will mean EOWA can establish industry-based benchmarks, we will need much more than that to make a difference.
Claire Braund, executive director of Women On Boards, is not up for fining non-complying companies just yet. She says WOB has a policy of naming and shaming in its Boardroom Diversity Index and next year the organisation's approach will become even more granular. It will be looking at entire company composition - not just at the directors.
Braund says the new Workplace Gender Equality Act will put the spotlight on any company that has more than 100 employees. And in some of those companies, ''gender equity is not even on the radar'', Braund says.
The mind shift will have to be major. For some companies, the equity and diversity policy is just three lines long. And for others, the issue is more about pay equity. All these things matter but if we want to change corporate culture, we need to force companies to think about gender balance in hiring for the workforce and in the appointment of directors.
I'm all for giving Conway at EOWA the right to fine companies who don't comply. That may well be some time off. In the meantime, perhaps we can keep a close eye on the companies who do the right thing and reward them with our business and our attention.
And an even closer eye on the ones who don't.