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What Aussies Really Think About Workplace Gender Equality

Women comprise 47 percent of Australia’s workforce, yet make up only five percent of CEOs and only 20 percent of executive management in ASX 200 companies.

When it comes to women in senior leadership roles, three in five Australians (59 percent) feel there are improvements needed to achieve equal representation. On International Women’s Day, McCrindle surveyed more than 1000 employed Australians aged 18-65, to gather their perspective on how Australia is tracking with regards to gender equality in our workplaces.

How far have we really come? (Image: Getty)
Three in four employed Australians believe equal representation of women in senior leadership is important

Australians are positive towards women in leadership and in senior roles. Three in four employed Australians (74 percent) consider the goal of equal representation of women on company boards and in corporate leadership as important, yet many Aussies are not convinced it is being achieved. Almost half (48 percent) believe not enough progress is being made towards this ambition.

Generation Y (aged between 24 and 38) is the most likely generation to believe achieving 50 percent representation of women on boards and in senior leadership positions is an important goal, but one that not enough progress is being made towards. Half of Gen Y (51 percent) considers this goal to be important compared to 45 percent of Gen Z, 46 percent of Gen X and 37 percent of Baby Boomers.

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As members of Generation Y are in the key years of establishing their careers and are moving towards leadership positions, it makes sense that they consider the equal representation of women in senior leadership positions as an important goal. Generation Y is standing on the shoulders of the generations that have gone before it, is an active generation in the workforce and members are more likely to be in familial situations where both parents work due to the economic context in which they have been shaped.

Most Aussies believe equal representation of men and women in leadership roles is important. (Image: Getty)
Three in five employed Australians believe there is room for improvement

Three in five employed Australians (59 percent) believe there is room for improvement when it comes to women in leadership and senior roles in our workplaces. Just 12 percent believe Australian workplaces are going extremely well in this regard, and that there is little left to improve upon. A further 28 percent believe it is going very well with not much room for improvement.

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As we look to the future, the emerging generations will bring unique and different qualities to leadership roles. Members of these generations will be portfolio-career holders who will bring a broader perspective than just a domain knowledge, which is important for governance boards. Their entrepreneurial and global mindset will be key to the value they will bring to the workplace. But to set them up well, current business leaders need to create a culture of leadership development, encouraging and empowering this next generation of women, as the leaders of tomorrow.

Nearly 60 percent of Aussies feel there's room for improvement. (Image: Getty)
Not enough flexible working options seen as the main factor holding back Australian workplaces from achieving equal gender representation in leadership roles

More than two in five employed Australians (44 percent) strongly or somewhat agree that not enough flexible working options holds back Australian workplaces from achieving 50 percent women in senior leadership roles, followed by a lack of support for women exiting the workplace for family reasons (41 percent strongly or somewhat agree).

Flexible workplace conditions are key to overall employee engagement, but particularly for women in the workplace. This next generation of women will be post-dialectic in their nature, seeking both career advancement and a family. Women have a tremendous capacity to juggle various commitments -- not without difficulty -- but to do this increasingly, we need the right flexibility, support for women leaving the workforce as well as organisations that model this well.

Women in leadership viewed as a positive by Australian employees

Australian employees are in favour of their leaders being women. Two in five employed Australians (21 percent) say their leader being a woman would be a positive, while 73 percent say it would make no difference to them if their leader was a woman.

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Members of Generation Z are more likely to consider their leader being a woman a positive, with 28 percent of Gen Z considering this a positive, compared to the average 21 percent. Generation Z members have been shaped in their formative years by a more diverse Australia and are more likely to not only be tolerant of diversity in our society and our workplaces, but to embrace it.

Australian employees are in favour of their leaders being women. (Image: Getty)
Female employment growing more strongly than male employment

The rate of growth for women in the workplace continues to outpace the rate of growth for men in both full-time and part-time employment. Key factors in the increased participation rate include higher education rates among women, child care support and growth in traditionally female dominated service sectors.

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Females will account for 58 percent of projected employment growth over the next five years to May 2023. Overall, female employment is projected to grow by 8.8 percent compared with 5.6 percent for males.

About this study: This research was conducted by McCrindle Research in February 2019, based on a nationwide study of 1,160 respondents.