Supporting women and gender diverse Victorians to reach their leadership potential in workplaces and the community

Women and gender diverse people are under-represented in all levels of leadership in Victoria. The main reasons for this are:

  • the challenges of balancing work and care responsibilities
  • a lack of flexibility in senior positions
  • unsafe and unwelcoming workplace cultures.

Barriers to leadership positions are harder for some women, who face discrimination because of attributes such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability.

Key statistics

  • Women are under-represented in leadership positions. Culturally diverse women even more so. Only 5.7% of culturally diverse women were board directors in 2022. [1]
  • In the Victorian public sector, women make up 66% of the workforce, but only 46% of leadership roles. There is a very small number of people of self-described gender in senior leadership positions. [2]

Parental leave and part-time work negatively affect women’s opportunities to work in management roles or get promoted. In contrast, men’s career prospects are largely unaffected by the birth of a child. In fact, it can often improve due to stereotypes around fathers as breadwinners. [3]

Gender norms – including caring responsibilities – affect recruitment and promotion across all sectors. This happens from gendered language and imagery in job advertisements, to unconscious and conscious bias in decisions about shortlists, interviews, hiring, salary and promotion. Stereotyping affects women’s career opportunities and progression, including ideas that women are not capable of being leaders.

We have made significant gains in women’s leadership in the public sector. Women represent more than 50% of members on government boards and courts. When we announced this target in 2015, women made up only 35.6% of government board positions. Now, this strategy will work to increase the diversity of women appointed to public boards, ensuring they reflect the diversity of the Victorian community.

We know there is much more to do, and this strategy will:

  • address the main structural and cultural barriers affecting women and gender diverse people’s leadership
  • explore how to deal with the challenges of balancing work and care responsibilities
  • explore ways to improve the lack of flexibility in senior positions
  • work towards more safe and welcoming workplace cultures
  • continue to design and deliver programs to support women and gender diverse people from varied backgrounds and experiences gain leadership positions.

Case study: Joan Kirner Emerging Leaders Program

The Joan Kirner Emerging Leaders Program supports young and emerging women leaders to navigate their career pathway and realise their leadership potential.

Participants take part in interactive workshops, collaborative group work, structured networking and mentoring activities. They also hear from guest speakers that are shifting perceptions of young women in leadership.

The program also supports participants to critically examine the structural, cultural and organisational barriers in their workplaces, and delivers a toolkit of resources to help them approach and overcome these barriers. During 2022 and 2023, 79 women will take part in the program.

Amelia Laughlan works as Games Investment Manager at Screen Australia and took part in the second round of the program that focused on women working in male-dominated industries. Amelia reflects that, ‘the program was excellent in that it helped me feel validated as an emerging leader in my field. I am able to approach my work with more grace and confidence thanks to the program.’

Through the program, Amelia said she ‘loved getting to meet a cross-section of exceptional women working in fields as diverse as law, disability advocacy, education, social work and engineering. Getting to know these women has emboldened me to feel more confident in myself as a leader’. The presentation training was particularly beneficial for Amelia: ‘working with my fellow women to become self-possessed, confident speakers was moving and memorable.’

Other participants have said that the program helped them feel more confident to take up space, celebrate their own achievements and manage themselves effectively.

Illustration of diverse people


[1] V Mapedzahama, F Laffernis, A Barhoum and J O’Leary, Culturally and racially marginalised women in leadership: a framework for (intersectional) organisational action, Diversity Council Australia, 2023, accessed 12 April 2023.

[2] Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector, Baseline report – 2021 workplace gender audit data analysis.

[3] CC Miller, ‘The motherhood penalty vs. the fatherhood bonus’, New York Times, 6 September 2014, accessed 6 February 2023.