Women in leadership: 10 actions that really drive change

08 November 2017

New research shows Australian companies that lead their industry in women’s leadership representation do 10 things in common, starting with making a compelling case about why gender equality is good for the organisation.

Women in Leadership: Lessons from Australian companies leading the way provides an evidence-based ‘recipe’ for effectively dismantling barriers to women’s participation at senior levels in corporate Australia.

The report out today is a collaboration between the Business Council of Australia (BCA), the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and McKinsey & Company.

It analyses WGEA data relating to BCA members to identify industry top performers and relationships between employer action and representation of women in leadership; and includes insights from 40 in-depth interviews with company representatives to identify the common drivers of change.

Key findings include:

  • a correlation between representation of women in senior roles and the availability of more flexible working options, including part-time roles for managers
  • 10 common actions to drive change across four themes: case for change, role modelling, reinforcement mechanisms and capability building (see the full list of 10 actions below)
  • effective change programs are tailored to an organisation’s industry and operating environment – the report identifies key organisational archetypes and gender equality challenges.

“Having diverse and inclusive workforces isn’t just a moral imperative, it is just good business. If we want to see the economy to grow, we need the active and equal participation of women and men at all levels, across all industries,” said Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott.

“Business wants to get this right, and that means knowing which actions make a demonstrable impact. This work tells us what that formula of actions is, providing a template for other organisations to accelerate their improvement.”

“It is beyond time for serious action to improve gender balance in senior leadership roles,” said WGEA Director Libby Lyons. “This research presents clear, evidence-based information for employers about what really works. I urge executive teams and boards to consider how these drivers of change can be adapted and implemented in their organisations.”

“It’s very important to be sharing the stories and best practices of top performers on gender equality - so that others can learn from the companies making the most progress,” said McKinsey & Company Partner and report co-author Jenny Cermak.

“This is a complex issue, but the report makes clear that a piecemeal approach doesn’t work. It’s essential for companies to follow the 10 practices in their entirety and really double down on them.”

10 things the best companies do to increase the number of women in top roles


I understand why I’m being asked
1.Build a strong business case for change
I see my leaders and colleagues behaving differently
2. Role-model a commitment to diversity, including with business partners
  3. Redesign roles and work to enable flexible work and normalise uptake across levels and genders
  4. Actively sponsor rising women
Our structures, systems and processes support the changes being made
5. Set a clear diversity aspiration, backed up by accountability
  6. Support talent through life transitions
  7. Ensure the infrastructure is in place to support a more inclusive and flexible workplace
  8. Challenge traditional views of merit in recruitment and evaluation
I have the skills and opportunities to behave in the new way
9. Invest in frontline leader capabilities to drive cultural change
  10. Develop rising women and ensure experience in key roles



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