Female-free zones at top

MORE than half of the senior executive teams of Australia's top 200 listed companies remain complete female-free zones.

MORE than half of the senior executive teams of Australia's top 200 listed companies remain complete female-free zones.

A Sun-Herald analysis has further identified that 10 of those companies - leaders in their field - have not once been recorded as having a female at that level in any of six Women in Leadership censuses. The censuses have been conducted over the past decade by the federal government's Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.

The 10 companies were:

Downer EDI (engineering).

Ansell (rubber manufacturer).

Billabong (clothing retailer).

Gunns (paper pulp mill).

James Hardie Industries (building products manufacturer).

One Steel (steel manufacturer).

Lihir Gold (gold miner, recently taken over by Newcrest Mining).

Toll Holdings (transport and logistics).

Westfield (shopping centres).

Paperlinx (paper merchant).

When contacted, many companies disputed the figures, pointing to one or two women in senior positions.

The director of the agency, Helen Conway, said new ASX reporting rules on gender equity had forced many of the top-listed companies to start lifting their game.

"What that has done is that people have started to get their rear ends into gear," Ms Conway said. "Frankly, directors don't want to be seen to be failing."

She said women had a right to feel "disappointed" with the progress made so far towards gender equality in the workplace.

Just 3 per cent of the CEOs, 8 per cent of senior executives and 13 per cent of board members of Australia's top companies are women, despite four decades of campaigning for equal rights at work.

Under legislation due to be presented in Parliament this spring, the agency will be renamed the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and will have beefed-up powers to require companies with more than 100 employees to report on gender outcomes.

The Women in Leadership census last year found 62 per cent of ASX200 companies had no women in their senior executive teams.

A spokesman for Ansell said the company had appointed two female divisional heads, based in the US, in the last 18 months. A spokeswoman for Westfield said the company had had a female director of business development in its 10-member senior executive team since 2007. A spokesman for Billabong said it had recently appointed a woman as one of eight regional general managers, looking after operations in Brazil, and set targets for increasing women in top management.

A spokesman for Downer EDI said one of its 14-member senior leadership team was female and the company focused on diversity issues.

A review of company websites shows Toll Holdings has a female director of human resources, while OneSteel has a female chief legal officer and Paperlinx has a female chief marketing officer who was appointed in April. The website for Gunns and James Hardie confirm no female senior executives. Ms Conway said today's female executives were mostly clustered in support roles, such as human resources.

"I think people are very conscious about getting women into the executive so they can say, 'We have X number of women.' But there is a legacy issue.

"They haven't promoted women through the lower ranks to get them to the executive top level now.

"I think the focus is on getting women promoted into those line positions."

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