Leadership and participation

Women continue to miss out on the highest levels of leadership and decisionmaking in business, government and community. Representation of Aboriginal women, women with a disability, and women from culturally diverse backgrounds remains disproportionately low.

Gendered ideas about leadership are formed early

Almost a quarter of teenage girls and 40% of teenage boys prefer male over female political leaders. Girls are less likely to take up leadership opportunities available through schooling, sport and recreation, and other co-curricular activities. Gender stereotypes and a lack of visible female role models can undermine girls’ and young women’s confidence and impede the accumulation of skills, experiences and networks that underpin leadership.

Gender equality in workplace leadership varies by industry and sector

Women continue to be underrepresented in business despite the development of clear gender equity targets—25% of ASX companies have no women in senior management roles. Women in professions such as STEM, banking and finance, law, medicine and emergency services face strong cultural and institutional obstacles to leadership. This is despite the fact that women often have far higher postgraduate qualifications and are more likely to be overqualified for their work and wage than men in the same work.

Special measures are needed

At all levels of government, business and community, women face a range of barriers to gaining leadership positions. These include unconscious bias, poor recruitment practices, male-dominated industries and poor workplace cultures. Research also suggests that women are often held to a higher standard than men in application processes.

Without clear targets and quotas for women’s representation in leadership, progress can be incredibly slow. Targets work best when supported by programs that create a pipeline of talented women leaders to choose from, training and networking opportunities, monitoring programs and scholarships can help women on the pathway to success.

Gender equality in leadership benefits us all

When women are empowered in the home, their greater control over household resources often translates into higher expenditure on food and education, to the benefit of children. When women are empowered in business, the economy profits. Having more women on the trading floors of stock exchanges reduces the risk to financial markets. Female public and political participation fosters economic growth, because when more women work, economies grow.

Early actions

  • launch the Joan Kirner Young and Emerging Leadership Program for Women, enabling a pipeline of new leaders through development, networking and mentoring
  • launch the Women on Boards Leadership Program to provide flexible support packages for women pursuing a board career, including through networking, scholarship programs, mentoring and capacity building
  • enhance the visibility and functionality of the Victorian Women’s Register
  • acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of Victorian women by expanding the reach and visibility of the Victorian Honour Roll of Women
  • support the establishment of HERPlace, the Women’s HERitage Centre to record the history of women in Victoria and promote women’s leadership role in the Victorian community
  • foster support for Aboriginal Victorian women to self-determine programs that lift women’s voices, participation and leadership
  • foster the leadership of women from culturally diverse backgrounds, LGBTI communities, as well as women with a disability, as an integral strategy to build gender equality
  • re-establish the Rural Women’s Network
  • support local councils and the community sector to trial and evaluate gender auditing within their own organisations.