It's depressing to hear that men are still nine times more likely than women to reach senior management in companies, especially given the overrepresentation of women in middle-management and the fact women are the majority of Australian university graduates.
Across all industries women are increasingly outnumbered as they rise in business. According to a recent McKinsey & Co survey of 130 companies globally, women made up 37% of the staff population. But men were 2.1 times more likely to be promoted to middle-management and five times more likely to be promoted to C-level positions.
While there a growing numbers of chief-level men in Australia naming their support for women in senior management, Belinda Hutchinson of national organisation Chief Executive Women notes that women want to see other women in the top job so they can envisage a path to such positions. Women need to see role models in leadership to believe they're working for an inclusive and supportive employer, but such role models will never appear without organisation-wide support for gender equity in leadership.
The importance of male CEOs and chairs supporting gender equity can't be overplayed, but it's the decision-makers much further down the organisational charts who need better engaging on this issue. Going beyond middle-management is where women can start to think practically about leadership. It is the executive, or near-executive, levels that are almost completely dominated by men.
Diversity, across skills and gender, needs to be beyond splashes here and there. It is about a-whole-of-organisation approach, as recently suggested by Deloitte's Rob DiMonte who said at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) event last year: "The business case for diversity doesn't just rest on having a sprinkle of women and a dab of colour." The focus is on women at the top, but gender equity must start early in the career, enabling women to access promotions along the way.
There are a variety of reasons cited for why women are not accessing positions above middle-management. But issues such as career breaks, lack of flexibility and lack of organisational support don't entirely explain it: plenty of highly qualified, capable and driven women exist in all industries.
Solving the lack of women in leadership goes beyond "giving it time". Businesses of all shapes and sizes need to make a commitment to women in the workforce.
Overcoming the problem requires those in powerful positions to recognise and promote the value of diversity in their organisations. For women accessing leadership, it begins with the person making the decision for promotion and that starts well below executive levels.