Gender equality: Where does Australia rank globally?

by Chloe Taylor06 Mar 2015
International Women’s Day is this Sunday, March 8 – but a recent report has revealed that when it comes to gender diversity, the gender composition of the Australian and New Zealand workforces are lagging behind in the international community.

Grant Thornton recently released its International Business Report 2015, revealing that Australia and New Zealand are falling behind globally when it comes to empowering the female workforce.

In the Asia-Pacific region – which includes Australia and New Zealand – just 20% of senior roles are held by women.

In fact, New Zealand falls into the bottom 10 globally, with 19% of the nation’s senior leadership roles being held by women. Australia failed to make the top 20, with just 22% of the nation’s senior leaders being female. 

Eastern European countries led the way, with Russia coming out on top – 40% of Russian senior leadership roles are held by women.

Georgia, Poland, Latvia and Estonia followed, with each country having at least 35% of senior roles occupied by the female workforce.

The report also found that women are most likely to be employed as their company’s HR  director than any other C-suite role; 27% of women in senior management held this position.

Globally, 19% of women cited gender bias as a barrier to their career progression. In the Asia-Pacific region, 17% of women saw it as an obstacle.

Grant Thornton had the following suggestions for organisations looking to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles:
  1. Make a top-level commitment to support women leaders
The report suggested that organisations need to recognise that female advancement is fundamental to success. This can be done by making a commitment to facilitating women’s career paths and laying them out in company policies. Many companies include policies which address unconscious gender bias in the workplace and hiring practices as well as introducing formal mentoring and sponsorship programs.
  1. Redesign leadership positions to be more attractive
Many organisations currently do business in ways which are unattractive to women. Holding breakfast and dinner meetings or networking events after work can cause difficulty for both men and women with other commitments and can hinder attraction to senior leadership. Leadership roles that offer greater flexibility are becoming increasingly attractive, and are offered by 63% of the world’s organisations. “It doesn’t matter, and shouldn’t matter, where or when your work is completed,” said Gillian Saunders, global industry leader for hospitality and tourism at Grant Thornton.
  1. Invest in mentoring and build role models
The majority of the senior leaders who participated in the survey said they had benefited from the guidance of at a mentor or sponsor as their career progressed. This shows a commitment to women’s careers by reducing barriers and providing support. Mentoring and sponsorship programs shift perceptions while creating role models within the business. “We need female role models of all types – those with no children, a few children, lots of children; those who work full-time and those who work flexibly – to show the full range of options available,” said Erica O’Malley, partner at Grant Thornton US.

“Clearly there is no magic wand, but Australia can learn a lot from Eastern Europe and some of the recommendations set out in our report – including changing societal norms around the role of women and eradicating gender bias – are directly drawn from what is working well in the region,” said Nicole Bradley, head of diversity and partner at Grant Thornton.

Bradley suggested that Eastern European countries were successful due to a mixture of historical, political and societal factors – including the Communist regime’s focus on parity for all.

“Gender and culture diversity creates a high performing culture, which leads to better outcomes, innovation, creativity and ultimately allows the delivery of the best solutions to help businesses achieve their strategic plans,” she added. “The trends revealed in the report therefore present real challenges not just for businesses but for government, society and women too. Society must adjust to changes in the way we live and work; for example, the stigmatisation of men who choose to stay at home for family reasons must end.”

“At Grant Thornton, we are working at creating an environment that supports diversity from the top down not because it is the right thing to do but because we believe in its strategic importance,” Bradley said. “It is clear that businesses across the board still have a long way to go to create a more level playing field at the top which will ultimately result in better growth opportunities for all.”

The top ten nations for women in senior leadership positions are:
  1. Russia – 40%
  2. Georgia – 38%
  3. Poland – 37%
  4. Latvia – 36%
  5. Estonia – 35%
  6. Lithuania – 33%
  7. France – 33%
  8. Armenia – 29%
  9. Sweden – 28%
  10. South Africa – 27%
And the bottom ten:
  1. Japan – 8%
  2. German – 14%
  3. India – 15%
  4. Brazil – 15%
  5. Argentina – 16%
  6. Botswana – 16%
  7. Netherlands – 18%
  8. New Zealand – 19%
  9. Indonesia – 20%
  10. Nigeria – 21%

Related articles:
Should our workplaces become more Nordic?

Does the glass ceiling still exist?

Equal pay makes appearance at the Oscars