The ceiling is still glass

A recent survey shows that Australian businesses have a long way to go before they achieve gender diversity in the upper reaches of management. But little is being done about it.

The Power Index

There's little to celebrate when it comes to progress on gender diversity in Australian business. New data released today shows that 75 per cent of small to medium-sized businesses do not have women in their senior management ranks.

And hold off on plans to celebrate progress in the future: these same businesses have no intention of appointing a female executive either.

Some of the country's most powerful businesswomen have drawn on the data to urge the business community – and the women within it – to get serious about the issue.

"We can no longer just wait and hope business will finally get it," Christine Christian, vice president of Chief Executive Women and the former chief executive of Dun & Bradstreet, told The Power Index. "It's time for women to stop acting like victims and to start doing something about this."

The data, released by D&B in partnership with CEW, has been collected over a three-month period from D&B's Business Expectation Survey of 1200 randomly selected chief executives. It shows that just 22 per cent of businesses have appointed, or are expecting to appoint, at least one woman to a senior management position.

The research also suggests that organisations are not actively chasing gender diversity in their upper echelons. Of the more than 75 per cent that have no women in their management teams, more than 65 per cent were not shortlisting women to fill senior openings.

According to Christian, the organisations sampled provide a better representation of the business community than data that examines the issue in the ASX 200.

"Small to medium size businesses represent the largest employer by number in Australia, so it is critical that we support them to improve the levels of gender diversity in senior management and the productivity benefits that flow from that," she said.

While women still only account for 8 per cent or executive position in large ASX 200 organisations, according to EOWA figures, some large organisations are showing how more can be done to improve gender diversity in their senior ranks.

According to CEW, Woolworths has been able to hang on to a good portion of executive women returning from maternity leave, and boasted 26 female executives working on a part-time basis in 2011. Meanwhile, ANZ has set its own targets of 40 per cent of its senior management roles filled by women over the next year.

This story first appeared on The Power Index on May 15. Republished with permission.