Despite the breakdown of traditional barriers in the workplace, many women are increasingly encountering structural barriers that prevent them from entering management positions, a Women in Leadership Forum has heard.


Hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Federal Minister for finance and Deregulation, Senator Penny Wong, told the forum that the Federal Government intends to launch a Women on Boards Network to identify candidates for government board positions.


Senator Wong said that the Government struggles to source senior women for their roles not because of their rarity, but rather because of structural barriers that prevent their promotion.


The Women on Boards Network, to be supported by the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Office for Women, would focus on providing women with their first board position, removing the requirement for past board experience.


Senator Wong said the network will enable the Federal Government to hit its target of having 40 per cent of its board positions occupied by women by 2015 and will provide a springboard for women onto corporate boards.


"Unfortunately the arguments for equality have not sufficiently influenced the composition of our boardrooms. Currently just 14.4 per cent of board positions in the ASX top 200 companies are held by women,"  Senator Wong said.


"We shouldn't discount that this in an improvement from the 8.4 per cent in 2010. But clearly what the figures show is that something is still hindering the involvement of women on boards."


The panel, which included the Deputy Editor of the Australian Financial Review Boss magazine, Catherine Fox, and advertising industry commentator, Jane Caro, said it was unrealistic to rely on the idea that gender equality in the workplace would occur naturally.


The panel identified the following key policy issues for government and business to promote real workplace equality for women:

  • Removing the gender pay gap which has remained static for the past 25 years, evidenced by robust data across all levels of work;
  • Providing quotas and targets for women on boards with real consequences attached to their achievement; and
  • Removing structural and cultural barriers to women in leadership rather than focusing on the deficits of women.