CEW Senior Executive Census 2021:
The ASX300 companies represent 85% of the total market capitalisation of the Australian stock exchange. They employ and serve thousands of people, and have considerable economic and social impact, operating as part of every community across Australia. Public listing makes these companies highly visible examples of the standard for corporate behaviour.
Why in 2021, do we even need to ask where are the women in corporate leadership teams? Australia is ranked equal first in the world for the education of women and first in the world for fewest legal barriers to equal participation. Yet the CEW Senior Executive Census 2021 shows that progress towards the representation of women in decision-making roles in Australia’s largest public companies is unacceptably low and has stalled.
In 2021, women hold only 6% of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) roles and 26% of positions in Executive Leadership Teams in ASX300 companies. Further, women currently hold just 14% of ‘line roles’, those with profit and loss responsibilities. With most CEO appointments made from line roles, this reveals a narrow pipeline of women positioned to progress to CEO roles in the future.
The lack of women in leadership of Australia’s biggest companies matters. There is unequivocal and rich evidence, collected over many years and many jurisdictions, to show that gender balanced leadership contributes to better decision making, company performance and culture, while also generating sustainable productivity.
In the wake of COVID-19, we are confronted by the impact of unprecedented disruption and seismic change. To move towards economic recovery and growth, we need to capitalise on our most valuable untapped resource – women. As the nation recovers from the pandemic, bringing in all the talent available makes economic and social sense. Leveraging women’s participation and leadership may be the single most effective thing business and government can do to boost the Australian economy.
The findings of the CEW Senior Executive Census 2021 are a sobering wake-up call to Australian business, investors and leaders. The lack of women in leadership teams could be described as a blind spot in the governance and management of our largest companies. Urgent and intentional action is needed to address the opportunity we have to lift Australia’s economic recovery.
Some of Australia’s largest public companies are leading the way. It’s notable that half of the top 100 public companies in the CEW Senior Executive Census 2021 also share gender balance as a common characteristic. Whether it’s gender balance in leadership that correlates with performance, or financial results that correlate with more equal representation, either way, these companies provide evidence that improved economic outcomes and gender balance are concurrently achievable.
To build a vibrant economy, it’s never been more important than now to focus on gender equity. On that account – Australia, it’s time for gender balance targets for executive leadership teams.