Pipeline of women leaders needs to grow

As a mum of three girls, I often ask myself; what’s holding women leaders back and indeed are they really being held back? The question is like a...

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As a mum of three girls, I often ask myself; what’s holding women leaders back and indeed are they really being held back?

The question is like a stone in my shoe that won’t go away.

Maybe it’s because I’m a feminist and a glass half-full type of person but I truly want to believe that progress is happening for women in terms of equality in work and pay.

Even if that progress is slow, or sadly just isn’t happening at all, I want to know what’s bringing the team down. And by team, I mean all Australians.

The results from the latest Financy Women’s Index for the June quarter, which were released in October, found that women are making economic progress.

The Financy Women’s Index, powered by Data Digger improved 0.7 percentage points to 109.9 points in the three months to June 30, 2017.

A narrowing of the gender pay gap, improvement in the number of women working full time and occupying top-level board positions supported the score.

But the progress of women remains slow.

Furthermore, the momentum that drove the Financy Women’s Index higher for its inaugural release on International Women’s Day in March of this year, suggests that we need to delve even deeper into the data.

One of the key issues is that there’s simply not enough focus on improving the number of women in senior management positions.

Indeed, it’s problematic to talk about the need for quotas on boards for women, if we are not doing more to improve things in senior leadership. Frankly, it’s like chicken before the egg stuff.

As a number of high profile Australian businesswomen have said, unless you grow the pipeline of women in senior leadership, particularly those with key profit and loss (P&L) responsibility, then you simply won’t grow the number of women represented on the boards of public and private companies and within government ranks.

Connie McKeage chief executive of fintech services company OneVue said that a shortage of women with P&L skills is part of what’s making female board progress slow.

“The natural progression is for CEOs and CFOs or other leaders of P&Ls to “graduate” post their operational careers to boards.

“Until we get more women running businesses or being responsible for P&L outcomes we will continue to see the minimum amount done to bring balance to boards.

“We need to fix the working environment and other fundamental issues that make leading companies or P&Ls more attractive to women.

“What we want to avoid is a backlash. We really need to find ways for women to contribute more to Australian businesses in senior roles then the natural progression to Boards will be made easier.

“We don’t want women to be seen as getting onto boards because they are women, we want the best people appointed to boards of Australian companies and a significant number happen to be women,” she said.

Gail Pemberton chair of technology company Melbourne IT also pointed out to me that whilst the Financy Women’s Index was an important indicator for women, it could be richer if we expand our data remit to look at the number of women in senior leadership.

I’m pleased to say, that in the coming quarterly reports, we will be doing this.

Currently, the Financy Women’s Index delves into government agency data to benchmark the working-life progress of women by taking into account, what women study after high school, what careers they enter, what they are paid, how much superannuation they have, and how many women are occupying board positions in the top 20 Australian listed companies.

By expanding this to look at how many women are in senior leadership roles across industries, particularly with P&L responsibilities, we hope to be able to show what the pipeline actually looking like for women and whether it is improving.

Among the key findings of the Financy Women’s Index are:

  • The Financy Women’s Index improved in the June quarter to 109.9 points, building on the inaugural December report of 109.1 points.
  • Job gains in full-time work participation boosted the Index as the number of women in full-time employment exceeded three million.
  • The gender pay gap narrowed to 15.3% as female wages rose.
  • The pace of progress in female board appointments in the top 20 companies remains steady at 31%.


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