Gender equality needs many shoulders to the wheel, and the $1.6 trillion superannuation industry has been urged to promote women and use its financial clout to promote organisations that do.
"It's all about power and influence. And that's what this industry has," Helen Conway, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, told a Women in Super lunch.
"Size and power means influence, and the ability to drive change. And you can do this by leading by example, by role-modelling change within your own superannuation funds. And you can also do it by influencing those with whom you deal."
Ms Conway said Australia had progressed since the days when married women quit their jobs, but the gender pay gap of 17 per cent and the low levels of women in management and boards left plenty to do.
She said the super industry, which is estimated to grow to $6 trillion by 2035, had a "good awareness of gender initiatives", and praised a push by Women in Super and the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees for women to comprise 40 per cent of trustees at not-for-profit funds by 2017.
"It's important we have this conversation and that people are then judged against these things," she said.
The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors is also pushing for ASX 200 companies to have two women board members by 2014.
Women in Super chair Cate Wood said women comprise about 20 per cent of trustees at not-for-profit funds, a figure that matches a 2012 report by superannuation research firm Rainmaker.
Figures for retail funds are harder to find, but Alex Dunnin of Rainmaker said they lagged their non-profit peers.
"There seems to be a lot higher [percentages of women in senior roles] than the regular corporate world. And women running funds tend to run good funds," he said.
Women comprise fewer than one in 10 executives of ASX 500 companies.
Ms Conway, a lawyer who has led the government body charged with promoting and improving gender equality in workplaces since 2011, said the younger generations would not accept the status quo.
"Over time, the younger demographic will not accept this and they will push for change and it will become relatively chaotic," she said. "So we do need to get our comfort zone, we need to take a bit of a risk, we need to think much more broadly and expansively than we have."
Under the ASX Corporate Governance Council's diversity recommendations, listed companies need to have a diversity policy, measurable objectives for gender diversity, and measure the proportion of women across their organisation, on their board and in senior executive roles.
Ms Conway said she tended towards BlackRock's position on the effectiveness of the policy on the top-200 companies. It said the boards were not appearing to "take the issue seriously". "But it's always getting slow getting change and at least these recommendations are moving in the right direction."