Elizabeth Bryan, the chairman of Caltex and a Westpac director, says she is "reasonably hopeful" about women's prospects in business as both genders push for workplace flexibility and chief executive bonuses are linked with female participation.
Ms Bryan, appointed as a member of the Order of Australia on Monday for significant service to the financial services and superannuation sectors and to corporate governance, says companies are changing to make it easier for women to progress.
"I've seen a lot of ebbs and flows on this women in the workforce business but what's happening now in the big companies, and the companies that are good at it, they're actually making structural changes in the way their company operates," Ms Bryan said.
"They're doing things like saying to the CEO 'OK, here are your key performance indicators for your bonus and on one of them you should target for the number of women you have at certain levels'.
"They're hardwiring it into the system ... it becomes a part and parcel of what a company has got to do."
Ms Bryan said flexible working hours have come to the fore.
"Our greatest loss of women now is at the middle management and upper middle management - where you get up the pyramid a bit and the jobs are not so easy to get hold of," she said.
"Plus, you get hit with the full burden of your second job - kids, young kids, running house - and it all becomes too hard and we lose a lot of women at that level.
"And the thing that I think is making it easier for them to be more flexible with their workplaces is that men of that age also want more flexibility."
Ms Bryan - who estimates she has been on 25 boards since the 1980s - said the focus should be women in management, rather than boards.
"The number of women you've got on boards, fine, is good and important," she said. "But, for the bulk of the women, it's being able to have a career and not just counting the ones that get to the top."