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03 April 2011
Lately, I’ve run across a lot of women who think corporate Australia, which they experience as predominantly male, is very unsophisticated. One has even gone as far as saying that in her successful business career overseas she never felt it was a negative to be female but in Australia that is a palpable sentiment within the business hierarchy. Embarrassing for all of us, I think.
At the recent CEW and Westpac Leadership lunch, panel member Elizabeth Bryan, Director Westpac Banking Corporation, pointed out at the end of the panel presentation that she couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about over women getting on boards.
You could here the coffee cups drop.
I mean, wasn’t that why we were all there – to discuss the critical factors in facilitating the increase in women at senior levels?
Well yes, but we were not there to focus on boards, which we seem to have got hooked on. Instead, as Elizabeth pointed out, there was something much more important to consider:
You can guide and influence on a board but you are not a leader in the company and you have no power. Power lies in senior management and that is where, Elizabeth felt, we should be concentrating the majority of our energies on getting and retaining women.
If you look at the real time figures, there is little doubt female participation at board and senior management levels is finally moving forward. The positive change is due to the fact that we now have credible institutional players and individuals backing the movement. The AICD and its industry leader members have begun to provide significant traction through a number of mentoring initiatives and specific courses. Policy changes in the public service and large corporates, targeting senior management and providing strategies for getting women into the positions, are also showing early signs of success. Momentum is there but the battle is not yet won.
Which brings me to a shameless plug for Westpac’s Learn Lead and Succeed series about to kick off around the country and in regional Australia. In conjunction with AGSM and working in with Westpac’s Mary Reibey scholarships this series is aimed at preparing and developing women who have reached certain levels in their careers to take the next big steps. It’s Westpac’s way of stepping up to the plate and providing strategies to keep the momentum, which both Gail Kelly and Elizabeth Bryan want to foster, going forward.
The target market is mass-affluent women, who, according to the marketing gurus, are characterised as earning above $75,000 a year. (The financial services industry in the US uses the term to refer to individuals with $100,000 to a million in liquid financial assets.) However you wish to define them, they are the women of mass influence in Australian business. They are the ones who are ready to step up to the plate and begin the move into senior management. They are the future of Australian business: corporate, owner operated, public, private, on the land, in the country or in the city, you name it.