Queen's honours for women in charge of blokey operations

Heather Ridout was as surprised as anyone to be the first woman to run the blokey Australian Industry Group. She wasn't chasing the position, she said, but loved her "purposeful" job.

Heather Ridout was as surprised as anyone to be the first woman to run the blokey Australian Industry Group. She wasn't chasing the position, she said, but loved her "purposeful" job.

It was hugely important to build bridges between business and the community, she said.

On Monday, two trailblazers for Australian businesswomen, Ms Ridout, pictured left, and the first female chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Katie Lahey, right, are being appointed Officers of the Order of Australia.

Ms Ridout was the respected face of industry for years, arguing the case of businesses in a range of industries, from manufacturing and mining equipment to call centres. "I was somewhat surprised when I ended up being leader of the organisation," she said of the position she held for eight years.

"I was fortunate to be in an organisation that was incredibly industrial and male dominated but at the same time was enlightened and gave me the opportunity to end up being the very first female chief executive.

"[The] group had a very big role in those big public policy debates and my interests were hugely aligned with the job: the economy; industrial relations; the environment; skills formation and infrastructure."

The lot of women in business improved greatly in her 30-year career with the organisation, she said, but it still had a long way to go because she was the sole female board director in recent years.

Ms Ridout is still deeply involved in public policy formation, as a director of the Reserve Bank and Australian Super, and she sits on the board of listed company Sims Metal.

Fellow AO recipient Ms Lahey has lobbied for minimum numbers of women on the boards of the top companies because it is not happening quickly enough.

Many Australians did not know how lucky they were in faring better economically than most of the rest of the world, Ms Fahey said, but the non-resources parts of the economy had to step up.

Ms Lahey was the Business Council's chief executive for a decade until 2011. She rose to the top of Australian business circles after coming to Australia on a working holiday as a 21-year-old.

Today, Ms Lahey is managing director of executive search firm Korn/Ferry International Australasia. On the way to leading the BCA, she was chief executive of Sydney City Council and the Victorian Tourism Commission.

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