Fewer women for top jobs

by 10 Nov 2007

Despite the skills shortage the glass ceiling remains firmly in place with fewer women shortlisted for senior positions, according to Michael Markiewicz of Carmichael Fisher.

Although there is an abundance of jobs and not enough applicants, this has not influenced the number of women shortlisted for senior positions.

“Demand continues to outstrip supply and in some cases there are four jobs for every candidate. However despite increased numbers of women developing through the ranks, the number of women on shortlists for the really top jobs is little in comparison,” said Markiewicz.

The proportion of women in employment has increased significantly over the past few years according to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency’s (EOWA) Australian Women in Leadership Census. However the number of women in executive management has only increased by a very small amount.

Female board directors increased by 0.5 per cent between 2004 and 2006, and the proportion of female executive managers only rose from 11.4 to 12 per cent. Of Australia’s top 200 ASX companies only 3 per cent of the CEOs were women in 2004 and this figure was the same at the end of 2006.

Finance seems to be the area were the least amount of women progress to the top.

To overcome this imbalance many companies specify that they have at least one woman on the shortlist for senior positions and some specify that 50 per cent of the shortlist are women. Markiewicz does not believe that this is the best solution to the problem.

“The best recruitment is done without being conscious whether you are putting a male or a female forward. It’s about getting the best person for the job,” he said.

“Personally I don’t believe having a requirement for 50 per cent of the shortlist to be women is a good idea. If for example you’re in a company where you have a group of finance people and they are looking for a new CFO and the message is that we really want to take a woman for the job, this would not be the best option. Employees would prefer the best quality person they can report to rather than have a woman or a man who may not be as good.”

Travel and family commitments are other reasons Markiewicz cites for the lack of women in senior positions. In his own experience he has encountered situations where a woman is the best person for the job but could not accept it due to family obligations.

“Some companies have such a requirement for travel that it can be difficult for a woman to commit to more than a certain number of weekends a year. Eight trips a year overseas can mean 16 weekends away. That is often the case with senior positions. And travel is easier for the non-primary carer rather than the primary carer,” he said.

“Of course there are a couple of notable exceptions to this where females hold the top jobs is where the wife had the career and the husband stayed at home and looked after the children,” he added.

According to Markiewicz, companies should look to the EOWA Employer of Choice for Women program for companies with good practices for equal opportunity for women. He also believes that one of the keys to allowing women to progress in the workplace is flexibility at a high level of trust.

“We have everybody in our company set up so that they can work from home which they do from time to time. This is great for mums with kids. I think it’s whatever office-friendly culture is possible whether it’s a nanny service, a policy that encourages the three- or four-day week, encourages huge flexibility – those are the things that are going to encourage women to join.”

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