First impressions are not always what they seem.

To an outsider, Australia appears to be a modern progressive nation with a female Prime Minister, Governor-General, and Lord Mayor of its biggest city.

But a snapshot of the private sector sharpens the focus: We are not destroying the joint; the joint is destroying us.


Image by Unknown Artist – The Australian War Memorial (ARTV01060), via Historic Houses Trust.

For the first time, the Australian Census of Women in Leadership, conducted by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, has looked beyond the ASX 200 companies to those in the top 500.

The results are nothing short of appalling.

Two thirds of ASX 500 companies have no female executives.

I don’t often resort to capitalisation but I feel the need to write that again:


Only 12 have a woman as CEO.

Australia has the lowest percentage of female executives compared with countries of a similar governance structure.

“The progress has been just hopeless,” according to EOWA Director, Helen Conway (pictured below right, image via BRW). “I don’t think people have taken this seriously.”

Ms. Conway says companies have shown “little discipline” in achieving voluntary targets.“The Sword of Damocles is hanging on the issue of quotas,” she says. “If we’re not seeing reasonable change by 2015/16… it would be hard to hold back the tide.”

I have been a vocal supporter of mandatory quotas for women both on boards and within senior management.

Still, the seven countries which have adopted this approach show varying levels of success. Women occupy 40 percent of board positions in Norway, but just 25 percent of management posts.

We need to unblock the pipeline for women, from the bottom up.

“We’ve firstly got a problem with female workplace participation,” Ms. Conway says.

Her answer is a root and branch review of childcare, including an inquiry by the productivity commission.

“Until you have men and women able to access flexible work arrangements without disadvantage to advancement, you are not going to get workplace equality.”

In Canada, a boost in childcare spending saw an exponential increase in the female participation rate.

EOWA estimates closing the gender employment gap in Australia would lift our GDP by 11 percent. Research shows businesses with policies on gender equality have a stronger bottom line, higher stock prices, and pay larger dividends during economic downturns.

“The evidence is pretty clear that promoting gender equality is good business strategy,” says co-chair of Women Corporate Directors in New York, Alison Winter.

“This is not just for equity. This is for business performance. We are neglecting half the potential management talent in Australian companies,” according to Professor Thomas Clarke from the Centre for Corporate Governance at the University of Technology, Sydney.

The ANZ bank has been setting public targets since 2006, with 24 percent of executive roles and 38 percent of management positions held by women.

“Don’t trust us, track us,” is the mantra of the bank’s CEO, Mike Smith.

The federal government is on track to meet its target of 40 percent female board positions by 2015. The landmark Workplace Gender Equality Act will add impetus by forcing businesses to report on gender equity.

And there are calls for executive pay to be docked if targets are not met.

Diligence by the AICD has seen a significant increase in the number of women on boards: 61.5 percent of ASX 200 companies have at least one female director.

But once widened to the top 500 companies, the picture remains bleak: women hold only 9.2 percent of such positions. It appears companies are trying to tick the box at board level, while neglecting senior management.

In the words of Mike Smith, “…more radical approaches are now required”.

After all, this is not just a women’s issue. It’s an economic issue; it’s a workplace issue; and it’s a societal issue.

If we’re really going to destroy the joint, we’ll need a much bigger stick.




The Futility of War

The Hobbit of Homophobia

Life’s A Glamorous Gamble

Dear Mr Sexist


*Tracey Spicer is a respected journalist who has worked for many years in radio, print and television.
Channel Nine and 10 news presenter and reporter; 2UE and Vega broadcaster; News Ltd. columnist; Sky News anchor …it’s been a dream career for the Brisbane schoolgirl with a passion for news and current affairs.
Tracey is a passionate advocate for issues as diverse as voluntary euthanasia, childhood vaccinations, breastfeeding, better regulation of foreign investment in Australia’s farmland, and curtailed opening hours for pubs and clubs. She is an Ambassador for World Vision, ActionAid, WWF, the Royal Hospital for Women’s Newborn Care Centre and the Penguin Foundation, Patron of Cancer Council NSW and The National Premmie Foundation, and the face of the Garvan Institute’s research into pancreatic cancer, which killed her beloved mother Marcia 11 years ago. But Tracey’s favourite job, with her husband, is bringing up two beautiful children – six-year-old Taj and five-year-old Grace. Visit Tracey’s website at or follow her on Twitter @spicertracey.


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  • Reply November 27, 2012


    I am a senior, qualified and accredited professional in a notoriously male dominated industry. Although not a big corporate, the company I work in is large enough to be an indicator for the industry as a whole. There are no ‘titled’ female staff in the office. We come close in ‘authority’ though not in pay, and have no say in the day to day running of the office.

    More recently, the trend has been to use the new maternity legislation but holding open jobs for women to return to, only to make them redundant a week after their return. There seems to be no safeguard for this either.

    I find it fabulously entertaining that many (most) of the men I work with are married, with working wives and children at home, yet fail to recognise that there are women working in their office, often from 7.30am – 22pm who are wives and mothers to others. Until this matter can be reconciled, there will be no change that I see happen in the workplace.

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    And then there were 2 partners in a Sydney law firm…She was greeted with raised eyebrows when she advised others that she’d need to leave by 6pm on a particular night to attend her child’s concert…while he was given many positive comments when he took a whole afternoon to take his daughter shopping for a dress for the school formal. Even women at the top are not equal!

  • Reply November 27, 2012

    Lisa Lintern

    Brilliant piece about a topic I feel so passionately about. From my personal experience, it’s internal attitudes to work-life balance in general that is the biggest block in the pipeline. It’s the eye-rolling that occurs when a parent dashes out the door at 5pm or the passing over of projects to someone who has more ‘bandwidth’. And I know this attitude exists because I used to dish it out myself before I had kids and didn’t have a clue about the demands of parenting. Recently I overheard a male worker giving out about his female boss who refused to meet with him after 5pm because ‘she was always running out the door to see her kids’. It’s this attitude that has caused me leave the corporate world and set up my own business where I can work on my own terms. We need an attitudinal shift of seismic proportions in corporate Australia – otherwise all the policies and mandatory quotas won’t mean a thing.

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    I have had the impression for many years that corporate Australia is a big ‘ol boys club – cronyism and corruption being the norm. My bright talented daughter, who is in year 11, expressed interest in the business world (when looking at uni courses), but I steered her away by pointing out the crap she would have to put up with if she chose this career path. This article (sadly) confirms it. She is now looking at a career in medicine. I wonder just how many bright women have ignored the business world for these reasons? Their loss.

  • Reply November 27, 2012

    jonah stiffhausen

    Gee whiz, the “Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency” would be a disinterested and impartial observer now, wouldn’t it.
    Everyone trots out their bogus statistics to push whatever barrow they happen to be behind.
    These studies are so obviously bogus and politically motivated that they’re worthless and useful only for boring ideologues in their never ending pursuit of power.
    Why should the taxpayer be funding a body whose modus operandi is to encourage war on men? (your husbands, brothers, sons and fathers)

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    The results of this survey do not shock me at all. When I had my first child in 1998, there was no prospect of part-time or flexible working arrangements – it was their way (fulltime) or the highway. And there was no affordable childcare for under 2’s either. So I left the corporate world. Multiply that many times over, and there you have it – no female executives in 2012. Completely predictable. We seemed to think that the road to women’s equality stopped with the Sex Discrimination Act. The harder stuff, like acknowledging all workers have lives and responsibilities outsides the workplace, making it easier for both men and women to function as workers and members of families and communities, and spending on childcare is all ahead of us still.

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    I agree with all the above comments and would like to add that it seems that in Australia in particular we don’t seem very able to engage with, communicate and understand people who are different from ourselves and from the ‘group’ we are at any one time a member of. For instance, non-parents have no understanding of the lives of parents, those who watch cricket can’t believe that there are people who don’t, those who go to the pub for drinks after work can’t conceive of the possibility that others might go to a yoga class. We have all these sub-groups in our society and there is little dialogue – and therefore little unerstanding – between them.
    And the two main groups are: male and female, with the male group, along with male values, being supported by our patriarchal system. The rules within any group determine what is ok to do/think/feel if you are part of that group. The rules of the patriarchy affect individual people like so: a man who works in executive management, who is also a father, is unable, once he arrives at work, to include his identitiy as a father into his sense of self – and so he judges anyone at work who expresses their parental self (one patriarchal rule is that work outside the home is ‘masculine work’ and ought to have nothing to do with family or children or caring). Or a woman who might be a nurturing mother at home dissociates from that when she’s at work and plays by the rules there, which are male-created and male-centric (if she doesn’t play by those rules then she doesn’t get ahead), and so at work she judges anyone who expresses any aspect of their feminine side.
    We need to first become aware that our society operates as a patriarchal system before any real and lasting changes can be made. We need to create a new system that honours and incorporates men and women, the masucline and the feminine, the adult and the child, family and culture – all of it! Otherwise, while the patriarchal rules are still in place, individuals are forced to play within that rule system.
    Until we are more comfortable with stepping out from our individual identity and group identity (along with all the rules and judgements we hold when we limit ourselves in such a way) and engaging with ‘the other’, which would lead to more understanding of the concerns and needs of ‘the other’ – the feminine, the woman-centred, the matriarchal in this case – all the inequity, injustice and warring will simply continue. We need to create a more inclusive rule system.

    • Reply November 27, 2012


      Astra, you are so spot on. Eva Cox wrote an article that was published here on Hoopla basically saying the same thing. Both brilliantly written and so true. Thank you.
      One thing that we do need to address is that childcare is not just a women’s issue. Men, fathers can also have great input into their children’s welfare, not just the financial.
      If women can work, look after the house and the children why on earth can’t men? Seems to me we are paying the wrong people the larger salaries.
      I do know there are more and more fathers who do share the work load but until women are regarded equally at work and therefore paid equally and given higher standing without the sexism where is the incentive for this battle.

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    I have nothing to add to a great article & wonderful comments…..women sure do still have a long struggle for the ‘equality’ that my generation (often figuratively)…’burned their bra’s for. (OK I’m a left over from the 60’s, but I do remember them well). Things haven’t really changed much.

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    I reckon that if “flexibility” in work hours and work practices are made as standard conditions we shall see greater gender equity. I am reminded of a sort of joke “we must be flexible” which undermines flexibility. Keep touching your toes!

  • Reply November 27, 2012

    Barbara Flowers

    The treatment of Julia Gillard by the ‘patriarchy’ would give most young women pause for thought. As a woman of immense ability everything about her has been judged through the lens of her gender. And so many of the men who’ve gone after her have nothing like her level of intelligence and capacity for hard work and her just plain funny-ness. How great was she yesterday? JG is a an amazing CEO in spite of it all!

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    Rosie, yes, I agree – it is ludicrous that childcare is seen as a women’s issue. I know so many families where when the woman returns to work after having a child, it is up to her to organise the childcare, and then to pick up the child/children by 6pm (or be charged $1 per minute that she is late), or else she can’t work (outside the home). For men it is a given that they work outside the home.
    I’d like to know, who cares for childcare workers’ children? If they can’t leave work before 6, are there childcare centres hidden from the rest of us from where childcare workers can collect their chidlren later?

  • Reply November 27, 2012

    Tony W

    “Two thirds of ASX 500 companies have no female executives.”

    By way of balancing patently biased EOWA claims, let’s cross-check with a few authoritative sources. We could start with the 2008 OECD report: Maximising the Economic, Social and Environmental Role of Women:

    Share of Employees in Managerial Positions:
    OECD average: 7% men, 4% women
    USA: 15% men, 12% women
    Aust: no figures given

    Women on Boards of Major Companies:
    OECD average: 54% one woman, 23% more than one woman

    Female Board Directors as % of Total:
    USA: 12.7%
    Canada: 11.1%
    Australia: 9.3%
    Germany: 8.0%
    UK: 7.5%

    No one denies the glass ceiling exists, nor that it is costing business and society greatly, but let’s have a debate based on facts, not feminist propaganda. Conway’s claim that 67% of top Australian companies have ZERO female board members is patently false. Tracey herself reported earlier this year that “Last year, 65 women joined the boards of ASX200 companies, six more than in 2010. Women now hold 13.5 per cent of these directorships.” Do the math yourself – for Conway’s claim to be true, we’d have to believe the figure suddenly drops from 13.5% to ZERO for the next 300 ASX companies, and that while 65 women joined the boards of the top 200 companies, not a single woman joined the boards of the next 300 companies. What pray tell is this magical cutoff point at the 200th company? Methinks: The Conway Factor.

  • Reply November 27, 2012

    annie also

    Choice is everything. Please don’t burn down every choice for women at the need to ‘get up there with the men’.
    Please include recognising once again, the hard work done by women who want to raise their own children for their first four years…PLEASE.
    Don’t demonise the women who are taking full responsibility for raising their own children.
    Choice is everything and respect for choice is everything. Support is needed for all choices.

  • Reply November 28, 2012

    Tony W

    Actually I may have verballed Conway – her ZERO claim relates to female executives, not female board members. Nevertheless it still doesn’t add up – in fact it’s even more unlikely. It’s pure propaganda, so pardon my cynicism if I don’t trust a word this woman says.

    @ annie also – “Don’t demonise the women who are taking full responsibility for raising their own children.”

    Well that’s the trouble with the sisterhood isn’t it annie. Women who sacrifice their careers to raise a family are letting down the side. You’re reinforcing gender stereotypes by staying at home and refusing to take your proper place in the boardroom. How dare you expect recognition for your hard work raising kids!

  • Reply November 28, 2012

    Tony W

    Haha, I just discovered even more reason not to trust a word Conway says. She’s a corporate lawyer! A very good one too! Working for oil giant Caltex she single-handedly scuttled the ACCC investigation into petrol price fixing.

    Presumably that’s why she was named Corporate Lawyer of the Year in 2005, where “she told reporters that her greatest challenge in the role was the increasing regulation of corporate governance by federal government reforms.” How ironic that she should now find herself doing exactly that!

    She’s nothing if not good at her job so we may see some progress in boardrooms. On the other hand, we may soon see her in one herself: “Keen observers of Conway’s recent appointment have noted with a wry smile that she will now be the one knocking on the boardroom door.”
    Go Helen!

  • Reply December 1, 2012


    15 years ago I was offered a job interview. I arrived at the scheduled time only to be kept waiting for almost 30 minutes. Turned out said ‘boss’ had been ‘out for lunch’ and had only just returned. He was rather intoxicated and ‘loose lipped’.

    He couldn’t remember my name despite asking me several times what it was, admitted he hadn’t bothered to read my resume and went on to make jaw-dropping disparaging remarks about the person currently in the role. Amongst comments about her appearance he spat out that she was a MOTHER, who had no place in the workforce and literally sprinted to the lift every evening at 5:03pm. He also revealed that his wife was at home with their children.

    As soon as I could I contacted the person who organised the interview and said how disgusted I was at his vitriolic remarks. She later called me to ask if I would reconsider a second interview because “I caught him on a bad day”. Needless to say I refused.

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