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Stronger role models needed to help women overcome challenges in the workplace

31 October 2013

49% of professional women in the Westpac Women of Influence Report perceive a lack of recognition from management as a major challenge

Young women aged 25-39, consider taking maternity leave as one of the top three challenges they will face

The Westpac Women of Influence Report revealed that almost half (49%) of the national survey’s participants perceive a lack of recognition from management as a major workplace challenge. Dealing with a lack of respect from male colleagues (34%); being overlooked for a role (31%); promoted into a leadership role (31%); and bullying (31%) are also key obstacles professional women have identified they encounter at work.

Further, around a quarter of career-focused females have acknowledged difficulty in obtaining equal pay to men in similar roles (26%); and feel they face gender bias (25%).

Westpac’s Director of Women’s Markets, Larke Riemer, who has dedicated the past three decades of her career to women’s financial empowerment said, “What I’ve learned in my role is that women want two things: respect and equality. Whilst our research shows that almost half (49%) of women feel they aren’t being recognised by their leaders, we can look at the other side of that coin and note there’s another half of professional women who don’t necessarily see things that way – so we are making inroads.

“I think Australian businesses must continue to proactively shine a light on successful women so they can become visible role models for others, and we can continue along this journey of positive change. This is the impetus for Westpac’s partnership with The Australian Financial Review Group to present the 100 Women of Influence award program, which celebrates the powerful influence of women all over the country,” said Ms Riemer.

Maternity leave is a topic which always rates highly on a woman’s agenda. Interestingly, the report uncovered that younger professional women, aged 25-39, see taking maternity leave as one of the top three challenges they face (33%) at work. Interestingly, this concern declines among those over 40 years of age (19%).

“Younger professional women seem to be daunted by the idea of taking time out of their career to have a family. What we can see however is that older women, who are more likely to have been through that part of their life, don’t consider it a concern or challenge. They’ve experienced it and with hindsight can probably see this time in their lives only had a short-term impact and did not actually have a material effect on their success at all. Women can have it all, just not all at once,” said Ms Riemer.

Interestingly, the report found that professional women look to successful colleagues they’ve worked with (56%) and high achieving business women around them as role models (53%), rather than public figures or celebrities (11%).

“This proves the need for influential women to be recognised and celebrated as doing so will give other professional females someone to admire and aspire to be like, whilst also being someone they can relate to,” said Ms Riemer.

“It’s something we prioritise at Westpac and we’re proud to acknowledge that 40% of leadership positions are filled by females, and one-third of Westpac’s board members are women. Other businesses in Australia can take a lead from this to confirm their intent to recognise the significant role women play.”

Key Findings – Westpac Women of Influence Report


The top five challenges professional women face at work include:

o A lack of recognition from management – 49%

o Lack of respect from male colleagues – 34%

o Being overlooked for a role – 31%

o Being promoted into leadership roles – 31%

o Bullying – 31%

Obtaining equal pay to men in similar roles – 26%

Gender bias – 25%


The top three challenges according to age –

Aged 25-39

1. Lack of recognition from management

2. Lack of respect from male colleagues

3. Taking maternity leave without affecting career

Aged 40-65

1. Lack of recognition from management

2. Bullying

3. Lack of respect from male colleagues


Where professional women find their mentors –

Successful colleagues they’ve worked with – 56%

High achieving females in business – 53%

High achievers in sport and celebrities – 11%

Westpac’s tips to help professional women overcome workplace challenges

Add value Consider your meaningful share of voice. Are your contributions to projects, meetings and business strategies being valued and intertwined with ongoing operations? Are you being recognised for adding that value?

Maximising time away from work To remain visible during times like maternity or parental leave, develop a contact strategy for staying in touch. Whether it’s a regular phone catch up or even a quick visit to the office with the kids; it will help you remain visible, and reinforces your commitment to the business.

Take the initiative Be proactive within the workplace. Look for new opportunities, connections and directions at work. If you wait for opportunities, they may never come.

Do the work At the end of the day, the most impressive people in business are the ones that achieve results. Develop a system of identifying and prioritising activities and tasks. Be clear on what success looks like, and then complete the tasks as efficiently and effectively as you can.

About the survey

This survey was driven by Sweeney Research via online polling of 1,031 women aged between 25 and 65 years of age during the month of August 2013. A copy of the executive summary of the report is available upon request.


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