CEW Research

Explore our thought leadership and research material

Chief Executive Women makes informed contributions to the national debate on gender balance. One of CEW’s most important achievements has been to cut through the myths surrounding women in leadership with hard data.

CEW ASX200 Senior Executive Census

Analysis of the gender composition of executive leadership teams is important because it indicates the progress of women to the most senior ranks in corporate Australia.

While the Australian Institute of Company Directors conducts a quarterly report on women’s representation on public company boards, there is currently no regular reporting on the gender composition of ASX200 executive leadership teams.

This Census measures the number of executive women in ASX200 executive leadership teams and also highlights the proportion of women in ‘line’ roles and ‘functional’ roles. Line roles are those that directly drive key commercial outcomes in a business and usually involve profit and loss accountability. Line roles represent the most significant pipeline for the ASX200 CEOs of the future.


Advancing Women in Australia: Eliminating bias in feedback and promotions is the sixth in a series of landmark gender parity surveys by global management consulting firm Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women, Australia’s pre-eminent organisation of more than 400 senior women leaders.

Women in line roles in corporate Australia are progressing more slowly than men towards leadership. The Bain-CEW report, based on a survey of nearly 4,500 respondents from the Australian business, government and not-for-profit communities, found that almost 60 per cent of men were promoted twice or more in the past five years compared with only 41 per cent of women. This gap in promotion rates only increases with seniority.

Narrowing the gap in promotion rates demands that our Australian organisations be meritocratic, yet the survey data from the Advancing Women in Australia: Eliminating bias in feedback and promotions report highlights that there is significant room for improvement. Less than half of the female respondents (45%) felt that their organisation is meritocratic, with men slightly more positive at 61%


When it comes to creating gender balanced organisations, boards can and do have a significant impact: they set the tone from the top, ensuring gender balance is an integral part of the strategic agenda, ask the tough questions of management and hold executives accountable for progress. To assist chairmen and non-executive directors take a leadership role in progressing gender balance in their own organisations, ‘Boards for Balance: Your Leadership Shadow’ presents actions boards can take across four aspects of leadership: what we say; how we act; what we prioritise; and how we measure.

‘Boards for Balance: Your Leadership Shadow’ is a collaboration between Chief Executive Women (CEW) and the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), building on the highly successful Leadership Shadow model, created by Chief Executive Women and the Male Champions of Change in 2014 for use by CEOs and other executive leaders.


A study of international best practice for promoting the participation of young people, particularly girls, in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

This research was conducted as part of the 2016 Barbara Cail STEM Fellowship and funded by the Australian Government (Office for Women, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet), in partnership with Chief Executive Women (CEW).


While most leaders would agree that people should be judged on their merits, a close look at the evaluation of merit reveals that what adds up to merit for some is susceptible to bias and clouded judgement.

Chief Executive Women and the Male Champions of Change have collaborated to produce In the Eye of the Beholder: Avoiding the Merit Trap.

This report blows the cover on the common biases that impact decision making and calls on every leader to reflect on their decision making and avoid falling for the merit trap.


The Power of Flexibility is the fifth in a series of landmark gender parity surveys by global management consulting firm Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women, Australia’s pre-eminent organisation of 360–senior women leaders.

Over 1000 members of the Australian business, government and not-for-profit community responded to the survey about their use of flexible work arrangements and their perceptions of their organisations.

In order to advance gender equality in the workplace, flexible work arrangements must be available to and actively supported for both genders. Currently less than 50% of Australian organisations have a workplace flexibility policy and even when such policies exist, there are barriers to effective utilisation.

The right culture and active support are fundamental to improving employees’ experience of flexible working. Male and female respondents to the latest Bain-Chief Executive Women Survey agreed that proof of the potential to progress one’s career, visible commitment by the CEO, leadership and colleagues, and respect for boundaries are the most important factors in their experience of flexible working. Where flexible arrangements are widely used, all employees are four times happier than in organisations with no flexible options. However flexible work arrangements are not driving advocacy or confidence for men, despite strong interest in their uptake.

Bain and CEW have identified several key actions to normalise and accelerate the success of flexible working. Organisations must:

• Actively encourage and role model the uptake of flexible work arrangements
• Ensure flexible arrangements are supported and working successfully for both genders
• Create the right culture and support employee priorities of career progression, visible support from the CEO, leadership team and colleagues, and respect of boundaries
• Create clear policies around promotion and compensation when working flexibly
• Ensure technology and an agile work environment are in place and working well


What does it take for an organisation to truly harness the power of its employees to improve productivity and business performance? Increasingly, business leaders are realising that the answer lies in creating a positive work environment in which employees feel they can achieve their individual, and collective, full potential.

It’s a powerful force: One Gallup analysis of 50,000 companies showed that high-engagement organisations have more than 20% higher profitability and productivity levels than their low-engagement counterparts.

Bain Partner Melanie Sanders and CEW members Kathryn Fagg and Meredith Hellicar sought to understand specifically what CEOs and other leaders can do to create positive and engaging environments for both genders.

Based on survey responses from nearly 1,500 senior executives, the report found that there are critical leadership behaviours that can make major differences in employee perceptions of the organisation in general and as a place for women to progress. Importantly, these leadership behaviours affect engagement levels for both women and men, spurring higher performance (and productivity) across the board.


CEW and Bain released Creating a positive cycle: critical steps to achieving gender parity in Australia in 2013 after surveying more than 800 Australian business professionals from listed and non-listed companies. We asked:

  • Would you recommend your organisation as a place to work? Why / why not
  • Would you recommend your organisation as a place where women can progress to senior leadership? Why / why not
  • Would you recommend your manager as someone to work for? Why / why not
CEW BAIN RESEARCHThe results discredit the notion that achieving equal representation of women in executive positions is simply a matter of time. They show that the biggest factor in enabling women to reach their full potential is the presence of women in leadership positions. As Melanie Sanders, Bain partner and co-author of the report, puts it: “The answer is less talk and more action: appoint more women.” The report highlights that women have been graduating from university at higher rates than men since 1985, yet men have a 9-times better chance of making it to senior executive ranks than women in large corporations. This is despite almost equal levels of ambition for senior leadership positions between women and men, according to the study. It found that women are half as likely as men to recommend their organisation as a place to work. And 53% women are detractors of their organisations as a place where women can progress to senior levels.
In 2011, CEW and Bain released their second report: What stops women from reaching the top? Confronting the tough issues. The survey of 842 Australian business professionals debunks the myth that competing work-home priorities are the greatest block for women seeking senior management roles. This is still a big issue for many women, but a majority of those surveyed felt that management style differences between women and men were far more damaging to women’s leadership prospects. The key findings are:

Senior leaders do not value the different perspectives that women bring to a team
They appoint executives with styles more like themselves
Men are viewed as better “promoters,” women as better “collaborators” – and whose style is more effective is crucial to the debate
Women and men are viewed as equally effective at making commercially-sound decisions, managing high-pressure situations and delivering transformative change

Some 60% of all respondents to this 2011 study felt that gender-specific approaches to management situations and issues are a bigger obstacle to women’s career advancement. This group includes a majority of women, at 78%. Only 39% of men surveyed agree with this. A majority of men, 61%, believe that competing work-family commitments is the main inhibitor to senior leadership roles for women.

In 2010, CEW and Bain released: Level the playing field: A call for action on gender parity in Australia. The survey of more than 1,000 Australian executives finds that they still do not believe there is an equal opportunity for women to be selected for leadership positions. Our survey shows that companies can take three measures to close the gap—and create a stronger talent pipeline. Three main factors are blocking the path to gender balance:

  • Not enough visible, committed leadership
  • Unintended cultural barriers
  • Under investment in sustained change management