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Editorial: The 100-year wake-up call for equality

At last week’s Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra, all 143 participants from government, business and unions were in furious agreement about one thing — the importance of women in digging Australia out of its economic funk.

In her keynote address to delegates — more than half of whom were women — Grattan Institute chief executive Danielle Wood said women were still excluded from “greedy” highly paid executive jobs because they were “incompatible with the load of unpaid care still disproportionately shouldered by women”. “If untapped women’s workforce participation was a massive ore deposit, we would have governments lining up to give tax concessions to get it out of the ground,” she said.

Speaker after speaker — from Andrew Forrest to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews — lined up to agree with her.

Why then, is Australia failing so dismally to get more women into the boardroom?

Chief Executive Women’s latest senior executive census shows female representation at Australia’s top public companies went backwards this year. At the current rate of change, it could take 100 years to achieve gender balance in CEO roles.

“This year’s results are an urgent wakeup call, particularly for investors,” CEW president Sam Mostyn said

At Mr Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group, the proportion of women in the business’ executive leadership team fell from 40 per cent in 2021 to 30 per cent in 2022, though the miner says overall female employment is up. Alarmingly, the number of ASX300 companies with no women in their executive leadership teams has grown from 44 (or 15 per cent) in 2021 to 47 (or 16 per cent) last year.

CEW member and outgoing Fortescue chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said that while research had shown “time and time again” the benefits of gender equality, there was no room for complacency. “The business community must implement proactive initiatives to build more diverse leadership across the full spectrum, as well as embrace values and a strong culture that supports and encourages diversity and inclusiveness,” she said.

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