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Supporting female leaders makes sense. Firms with female leaders see higher profits, a more diverse workforce and higher employee engagement. But despite the obvious benefits, gender equality in leadership positions is a long way off.
With the pandemic placing additional strain on women trying to advance their careers while staying on top of their caring responsibilities, and a diminishing window of opportunity to achieve leadership roles. It’s more important than ever that firms step up and start working with women to support current and aspirational female leaders to reach their full potential.
Women in the Australian workplace
While more female leaders are rising to senior positions, it’s a trickle. The gate isn’t fully open yet. Despite evidence showing that companies with female leaders outperform those led by men, there are still too many obstacles in the way for women to overcome to reach gender parity.
The pandemic hit women particularly hard. In fact, a study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that women were more likely than men to have lost their jobs during the pandemic, and they were also more likely to have had their hours reduced. This step back has stalled progress and also created a gap of experienced women who aren’t able to fully contribute to the workplace.
In the 2020-21 WGEA dataset, women make up half of the employees (51%), however, women comprise only:
19.4% of CEOs
32.5% of key management positions
33% of board members
18% of board chairs.
What’s holding women back?
There are a number of factors that hold women back from achieving leadership positions. These include:
Lack of opportunities: Women are often passed over for promotions in favour of men. This is due to a number of factors, including unconscious bias and the fact that women are often not seen as being as qualified as men for leadership roles.
Work-life balance: Women are still expected to do the majority of the housework and childcare, which can make it difficult for them to balance their work and personal lives. This can lead to burnout and make it difficult for women to advance in their careers.
Gender stereotypes: Women are still often stereotyped as being less competent and less capable of leadership than men. This can make it difficult for women to be taken seriously in the workplace and can lead to them being overlooked for opportunities.
How can firms support female leaders?
There are a number of things that firms can do to support female leaders. These include:
Create a culture of inclusion: Firms need to create a culture where women feel supported and valued. This means having policies and practices in place that promote gender equality and that make it possible for women to balance their work and personal lives.
Provide mentorship and sponsorship: Mentorship and sponsorship can be invaluable to female leaders. Mentors can provide guidance and support, while sponsors can help to advocate for women and open up opportunities for them.
Offer flexible working arrangements: Flexible working arrangements can help women to balance their work and personal lives. This can make it easier for them to advance in their careers and can also help to reduce burnout.
Address unconscious bias: Unconscious bias can be a major barrier for women. Firms need to take steps to address unconscious bias in the workplace, such as providing training on unconscious bias and creating a culture where it is safe to discuss these issues.
By taking these steps, firms can help to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for female leaders. This will not only benefit women, but it will also benefit the firms themselves. Studies have shown that firms with more women in leadership positions are more likely to be profitable and to have a more engaged workforce.
Supporting female leaders is good for business. By creating a culture of inclusion and providing the support that female leaders need, firms can help to close the gender gap in leadership and reap the benefits of a more diverse and engaged workforce.
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