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2022 CEW Census an Urgent Wakeup Call – CEO Gender Balance 100 Years Away

The progress on women reaching the most senior leadership roles in corporate Australia is going backwards, according to the 2022 Chief Executive Women (CEW) Senior Executive Census, and at this rate it will take 100 years for women to make up at least 40% of all CEO positions on the ASX200.

Now in its sixth year, the CEW Senior Executive Census tracks the representation of women in the senior leadership teams of Australia’s top public companies and will be released today at the CEW Leadership Summit in Melbourne.

CEW President Sam Mostyn AO said, “In light of the recommendations from the Jobs and Skills Summit, and the critical job shortages across the economy, it is staggering to see the stalling, or reversal, of women’s representation on leadership teams in many companies.

The Census tells us that incremental change is not good enough. We must act now, or we know it will take 100 years to reach parity in CEO positions.

“In this economic environment, it is vital that we enable women’s participation and leadership, one of Australia’s most available resources. We are calling for business to take purposeful, immediate action and for investors to demand gender balanced leadership teams at the companies they invest in.

Our Census shows that our best-performing companies are more likely to have set and achieved gender balance than companies lower in the ASX300. This reiterates what we already know – businesses achieve better results when there is gender balance. This is not just about equality – this is about smart economics and future productivity,
said Mostyn.

Census data shows the number of women CEOs in the ASX300 has not improved since last year, remaining at 18.

Concerningly, this year more ASX300 companies have no women in their executive leadership teams compared to this time last year. Anecdotally, the appointment of women into top leadership roles has been seen as ‘risky’. The risk is in not appointing skilled capable women who are ready to step into leadership.

However, CEW Census data shows that setting gender balanced targets is continuing to gain traction, with the percentage of companies implementing these targets increasing by 7% in the past year (51% for the ASX100 and 36% for the ASX300).

Key findings for the 2022 CEW Census include:

  • More ASX300 companies have no women in their executive leadership teams than this time last year (46 in 2022, compared to 44 in 2021).
  • Fewer ASX300 companies have gender balanced executive leadership teams (50 down from 58 in 2021).
  • Of 28 CEO appointments at ASX300 companies in the past year, only four were women.
  • It will take 100 years for corporate Australia to achieve gender balance of at least 40% women in CEO positions on the ASX200.
  • Women hold just one in four executive leadership roles in ASX300 companies.
  • Women hold just over one out of ten management roles with profit and loss responsibilities (line management roles) – which are traditional pathways for CEO appointments.
  • It will take 32 years – or until 2054 – before there is 40:40:20 gender balance in line management leadership roles.
  • Women are more likely to feature in the executive leadership teams of ASX100 companies, but almost half of ASX100 companies still have no women in roles with profit and loss responsibilities.
  • The number of companies setting gender balance targets increased by 7% in the past year in the ASX300 (51% for the ASX100 and 36% for the ASX300).
  • Sectors leading the way with women on executive leadership teams are Utilities and Communication Services.

Bain & Company Partner Agathe Gross said, “The data trends show gender balance won’t be achieved unless mid-career retention strategies are in place and strong talent pipelines and opportunities, particularly in line areas, are created for women to accrue suitable experience throughout their careers so they’re ready to ‘step up’ into senior roles that typically act as ‘feeder roles’ when it comes to appointing CEOs.”

Actions for business, investors and government

Specific actions identified in the CEW Census for businesses to consider include setting and monitoring gender balance targets for leadership teams and line roles; reducing gender bias in recruitment and promotion processes; and investing in building the pipeline of women leaders.

Investors are encouraged to embed a gender lens when making investment decisions; urge companies to set gender balance targets with clear timeframes and implement policies that enable gender equality.

Recommended actions for Government include giving priority to organisations with gender balanced leadership for government procurement; strengthening corporate reporting requirements to ensure companies publish company gender pay gap data; placing care at the centre of the economy and investment in well-paid, secure jobs in care industries; and delivery of universal early childhood education and care.

The 2022 CEW Senior Executive Census is not only an urgent wake-up call for corporate Australia, but also a remarkable opportunity to invest in equality.

This year, Australia has a choice. We can continue to hope for the incremental progress of women into leadership; or we can be bold, set purposeful targets, be accountable and harness one of our greatest opportunities for success,
said Mostyn.

The CEW Census is supported by CEW Partners Bain & Company, Spencer Stuart, Melior Investment Management, HESTA and 40:40 Vision, as well as CEW’s Thought Leadership Partner ANZ.

The full report is available at

Additional quotes from CEW Senior Executive Census partners:

Debby Blakey, CEO HESTA and Chair of 40:40 Vision Steering Committee

It’s wonderful that more companies are now setting targets to achieve gender balance in executive leadership teams, because targets work. HESTA is proud to be the founding investor for 40:40 Vision, which aims to achieve gender balance in ASX300 executive teams by 2030. Investors are encouraging companies to shift from talking about improving gender equality to backing that with action by committing to numerical, time-bound targets on this very important issue because we know better gender balance means better financial performance, better governance and stronger long-term company value.

Kerri Burgess, Senior Director, Spencer Stuart

It is promising to see that more companies are setting targets to reach gender balance in their executive teams, 36% in the ASX300, up 7% on last year. However, it is clear that Australian companies still have a lot more work to do to increase the number of women in line leadership roles, which is the most proven pathway to the CEO role.

A structured and systematic approach to building talent, and rigorous assessment for selection and development is essential to increase the diversity of the talent pool. Showing greater openness to lateral female candidates for critical business line roles,  where they exhibit potential to deal with complexity and ambiguity, will also increase the internal and external talent pools, particularly in the increasingly competitive global talent market.”

Julia Bailey, Head of Advocacy Strategy / Senior Analyst, Melior Investment Management

Melior is a leading Australian equities impact investment manager seeking to deliver both competitive returns and positive impact by actively investing in listed companies that we believe deliver a positive social or environmental impact by contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Melior believes that Corporate Australia and New Zealand has a significant role to play in addressing Gender Equality (SDG5) and ensuring women’s full and effective participation in the workforce, particularly in leadership positions. The ASX employs over 2 million people and has some of the largest employers in Australia. Therefore, it is critical that investors are allocating capital to companies that are specifically addressing Gender Equality. Our investment strategy, which includes a gender lens investing assessment, seeks to address these challenges by both investing in large companies showing gender leadership and actively engaging with listed companies with the aim of influencing them to improve their contribution to achieving SDG5: Gender Equality. This includes encouraging them to set targets to achieve gender balance on executive leadership teams, and eliminating pay gaps.  Chief Executive Women’s Annual Census provides critical data and insights to companies, investors and other stakeholders to drive progress towards achieving these goals.

Melior also believes in walking the talk in the funds management industry which has traditionally been male dominated. We have a gender balanced team, a female CEO and female portfolio manager and an inclusive culture that enables not only greater diversity of thought and talent, but also investment outperformance potential.  Since our inception in July 2019, we have delivered top quartile performance against our mainstream large cap Australian equities peer group*.”

*Source: Morningstar, Peer Group: Equity Australia Large Blend. As at 31st July, 2022.