Australian corporations risk cutting off access to half of the nation’s skill pool, with leadership positions still almost exclusively occupied by men, according to a new report prepared by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA).


The new 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership reveals that women are still grossly underrepresented in leadership positions in Australia following a decade of neglible change for women in executive ranks.


The report found that only 9.2 per cent of executives in the nation’s top 500 companies are women, while only 12.3 per cent of directorships are held by women in the ASX200, and only 9.2 per cent in the ASX 500.


EOWA’s Director, Helen Conway, said the report found that the drastically low levels of women in leadership positions means it could be decades before any meaningful change is made to the gender make up of senior roles.


We've been conducting the Census for 10 years and, frankly, you'd expect to see more progress," Ms Conway says.


"Companies have failed to develop and maintain a strong pipeline of female talent, and you can see this in the negligible growth in female executive management."


For the first time, the Census shows a significant increase in the number of women on boards, with 61.5% of ASX 200 companies having at least one female director.


"I welcome that women are finding their way onto some boards, but the number of women in senior management has increased only marginally. People are ticking the box at the board level but they’re not applying the same standards to management.”


Other key findings of the Census include:

  • Women are under-represented in the pipeline to senior leadership, especially in crucial line management roles. Men hold 2,148 line positions in the ASX 500; women hold 141 line positions.
  • Female directors are more likely than male directors to hold multiple directorships: 23.3% of female directors of ASX 500 companies hold more than one directorship, compared to 14.3% of male directors.
  • Pharmaceutical biotech and life sciences, consumer services, transportation, diversified financials, and retailing are the top five industries in the ASX 500 for female executive appointments (ranging from 14.1% to 22.2%).
  • Consumer durables and apparel, utilities, capital goods, energy, and materials (dominated by mining) are the five worst performing industries in the ASX 500 for female executive appointments (ranging from zero to 6.4%).