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Leading ladies: research shows women under-represented in senior roles

9 July 2013

Misogyny and gender equality have been key discussion points in Australian politics over the last few months and have also featured in recent international news. Regardless of where your political alliances lie, recent research suggests that across the globe, women are still under-represented in leadership roles in the public sector.

According to Ernst & Young's Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders, Canada leads the way in gender equality in the public sector, with 45% of leadership roles held by women. Australia comes in second, at 37%; with the UK third, at 35%. The figures for the rest of the globe are even less inspiring, with some leading economies showing particularly low representation of women in senior government roles.

The report highlights the effectiveness of specific programs or quotas to ensure equal access for women to leadership roles. It notes in particular, the success of some emerging economies (Argentina, Mexico and Turkey) that have enacted specific legislation to ensure opportunities are available for women.

There is a lot of interesting information here, relevant to both private and public sectors. While specific gender equity policies are an important starting point, their success relies on your organisation having internal champions to remain vigilant to old habits and to push for positive change. A large part of the process is raising awareness of subconscious mindsets that may inadvertently disadvantage female employees from progressing into leadership roles.

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For many organisations, including EEO training courses as part of the induction experience and the ongoing professional development program is a successful way to keep the whole organisation alert to indirect discrimination. Some forward-thinking organisations also pair this with training on assertiveness and how to negotiate effectively, which are areas female leaders often report as key challenges when dealing with established male-led workplaces.

There is a cultural element too. Workplaces that support women to pursue leadership roles encourage all staff to have a go, to seize opportunities, to take a long-term approach to career planning that allocates time out for parenting if appropriate, and to take advantage of re-entry programs after maternity leave.

iHR Australia offers EEO training courses that can help you to understand discrimination and ensure your organisation has policies in place to provide equal opportunity for all employees. iHR Australia is a leading HR consulting firm and offers a range of services including on site and on call HR support services. Call 1300 884 687 or make an online enquiry.

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