What is the importance of having influential women in business?
This is the question that we put out to Australian business leaders for our Let’s Talk forum today.
Gender equality within organisations is arguably a necessity for driving a business forward as a balanced male and female influence brings a more diverse leadership approach. It’s important not only because it is ‘moral’ or ‘fair’ but because it is actually linked to increased organisational performance, and on a country level it is correlated with increased economic performance too.
When we discuss gender equality we are mainly concerned with workplaces providing equal pay, the inclusion and equal participation of women in the workforce, access to all job roles across all industries regardless of gender and the elimination of discrimination. This is particularly relevant with women in business, as pregnancy, family and caring responsibilities can be seen as a hinderance to their careers.
Kat Warboys, Head of Marketing ANZ, HubSpot
Despite progressing leaps and bounds over the past decade, we’re still a ways away from making the world a more balanced place for women, especially women in business.
It’s time more companies made gender equality a business priority — not only do diverse teams perform better but championing underrepresented groups is simply the right thing to do. Nobody should be held back in their career because of their gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, or any other factor. It’s time for a better-balanced workforce, full stop. The saying ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ is pertinent when it comes to influential women in business. To ensure a more balanced future, we need more women in leadership positions, as well as people from other underrepresented groups, to inspire the next generation to follow suit. However, I’m often asked what businesses should be doing to work towards that future.
A big part of moving the needle on balance for gender equality is through education and inclusivity — gender equality isn’t something that only women can fix, we need everyone’s support. Show your employees, whatever gender they identify with, different perspectives and equip them with the tools to go out and be an active ally for underrepresented groups, both personally and professionally. At HubSpot, celebrating and empowering women is a year-round initiative. We provide programming and resources to amplify women’s voices, share stories, learn from one another, impact the next generation and take action towards a more balanced future.
Melissa Bowden, Head of HR, Intuit Australia
Personally, I’ve been really fortunate to experience all kinds of female leadership styles in and outside of Intuit. Through this, I’ve seen that there are a multitude of reasons why having women in positions of influence is important.
The obvious benefit is that it brings diversity to the table. That shows up in the way women think about a certain topic or situation and in how they problem solve. Something that I’ve certainly seen at Intuit in particular is how women help create great collaborative environment, which always leads to better outcomes. This goes hand in hand with the fact that women are often great at balancing empathy and vulnerability in the workplace. The ability to show people that you can bring your whole self to work is really important.
Beyond this, some of the best female leaders I’ve worked with have taught me how empathy can help you have maximum impact in a meeting. It’s all about the power of understanding your audience and really thinking about that before you pitch an idea – who are you talking to and how does that change your messaging?
At Intuit I’ve seen that having so many strong female leaders, from our head of customer success to our group product manager, also has a direct correlation with strong employee engagement in the business. I believe that relates both to how they can build a really inclusive environment with strong collaboration and, to people’s ability to see that there’s a clear career path for them to get into leadership. In my experience, I’ve also noticed that some of our female leaders are especially great at driving accountability in a way that’s really respectful. That’s been incredible to see in action and learn from.
Fiona Sweeney, Director, Asia Pacific, Pluralsight
Being an influential woman in business—any business—is highly critical in order to contribute to the overall diversity of thought, especially within a company’s leadership team. Currently, 95% of ASX 300 companies are led by men, leaving only 15 women amidst 285 male chiefs. This imbalance is not only concerning, but actually deprives companies of diversity of thought, perspective and experiences in problem-solving and creativity. Equal representation of women the leadership level and across the business are critical to set examples for other women to further their career. For example, the current entering workforce in IT will need to not only have a good foundation of core tech skills but also demonstrate a passion for ongoing technology skill development that keeps them up-to-date with the constantly changing nature of IT. This is an opportunity for women in leadership to become especially important by encouraging female talent to upskill in a space that’s historically male-orientated.
Anna Hawter, COO at Lumi
At Lumi, we’re growing faster than we could have imagined and are fortunate to have developed a diverse and dynamic team. I believe it gives us a serious competitive advantage, enabling creative problem solving through stimulating discussion and debate.
When we’re surrounded by different genders, ethnicity and cultures, it brings a greater diversity of thought which enhances overall creativity and encourages more unconventional thinking.
That said, several research studies indicate that gender diversity – especially at the management level – enhances a company’s overall performance. More specifically, companies also generally see higher financial returns when women are part of the leadership team, and are better at meeting overall job satisfaction needs.
In my opinion, workplace diversity leads to more innovative thinking, improved decision making, and enhances overall culture. All companies can profit from having more diversity in the workplace and should make this a priority.
Brad Jenkins, Head of Leisure at Lewis Land Group
The hospitality industry as a whole and particularly local pubs were a traditionally male-dominated space, however, modern day businesses are seeing a strong female shift. While our business isn’t focused solely on selecting staff by gender, we are lucky to have highly talented and influential females throughout our organisation. With 56% of employees in all of Lewis Land Group’s hotel division being female, and two out of three are led by female general managers who have made positive changes to the customer experience, influential females are a core part of Lewis Land Group’s business.
Kirstin Hunter, Managing Director, Future Super
Working to increase the role of women in business is not something we can keep referring to as “the future” — it needs to be our present. Having women at senior levels motivates women throughout the business, encourages mentorship, builds interpersonal relationships, and has a profound and pronounced impact on a business’s success.
This is true across all industries, and something we’ve made a particular focus of how we run Future Super. Finance is an industry that is particularly slow to respond to change, especially when it comes to diversity. In light of that, we’re excited to be at the forefront of addressing gender-related workplace discrimination. This year we became the first super fund in the world to completely exclude investments in companies that have no women on their boards.
The power of diverse experiences and viewpoints helps companies perform better in all fields, and the more we do to raise up women now, as opposed to waiting for change to come, the more positive change we’ll see.
Batoul Peters, General Manager of Global Story Network
If you were to mention the name Diana Prince to most women, they probably wouldn’t know who you were talking about. Mention Wonder Woman and it is of course how we would all like to feel. Yet Diana Prince is the alter ego of Wonder Woman and who WW has to be when she does not want to be noticed, feared, envied or bothered in her ordinary life.
All women in business are influential and important, but the reality is that women can only be truly influential if they are encouraged or supported. In business we need to do better to support one another instead of approaching success with a scarcity mentality – that if another woman is shining bright that somehow other women prefer to dim her light, even though they may preach positivity for the sisterhood. The feminist movement has made too much progress for us to get caught up in learnt behaviour instilled in us from watching gender stereotypes growing up. How about we offer support to the women in our lives as a given, then we will appreciate and believe in our ability to influence in business and beyond.”
Filipa Araujo, SheStarts Accelerator Program, BlueChilli
Diversity in leadership teams leads to 19% higher revenue due to innovation. When more than half of the population in Australia is female, gender equality should be the easiest type of diversity to balance.
The case for more women in leadership is also undeniable. In the corporate world, having a woman in senior management is associated with higher returns of 8 to 13%. And although the return on investment for women-led startups is more than double other startups, startups founded by all-women teams have received less than 3% of Australia’s venture capital funding, while all-male teams received more than 60% in 2018.
In Australia, only 1 in 5 startups are created by a womanso we need more than a strong business case to level the field. We need to showcase their success and their leadership. At SheStarts, our mission is to support women entrepreneurs in building global tech companies, and to share their stories of their journey along the way. We believe that if we can see it, we can be it – so we’re making women founders more visible to inspire many others to follow this path as well.
Pamela Jabbour, CEO of Total Image Group
Influential women in business provide a strong female role model in an organisation. This is necessary to not only provide support, but also inspiration to the next generation. The importance of having women of influence within a business stems from the need to challenge the traditional ideas about leadership and bring about much needed change in the workplace. I believe a women’s ability to make important strategic decisions, that not only serve the business, but also consider staff in an empathetic way delivers a much-needed leadership style that is vital to the success of a business.
Emma Bannister, CEO of Presentation Studio
My personal perspective is that we need to move the conversation away from quotas of women in business. Instead, we need to value each individual woman for what they bring. That way we can begin to welcome genuine diversity in our workplaces. Women have particular strengths. For me, that’s meant prioritising relational wellness in my team and building a supportive, nurturing environment. Having said that, men can’t be excluded from the conversation; we need to balance people’s strengths and weaknesses. Influential women absolutely have an important role to play, demonstrating what strength through diversity looks like.
Helen Baker, Financial advisor and Founder of On Your Own Two Feet
It’s fantastic that the glass ceiling is history and that women are pursuing careers as managers, CEOs, starting and running businesses. I’m grateful to those who went before me and have encouraged me along the way. In the past there was a sense that to achieve, we had to be like men, which is not authentic. It is far better that we remain feminine combining this with our talents/giftings whilst doing what we love – this is key to our purpose, our clients and those around us. Women supporting women is powerful. We need more of that.
Michelle Sales, Leadership specialist and Author of the new white paper “The Connection Deficit”
It is a given that gender diversity leads to improved performance and the business case for this has been well and frequently made. But to be truly effective this is not just about getting more women to the top of organisations. The ability for women to have influence and be influential is key. Women influence differently to men, drawing on different relationship skills and empathy. It is important that organisations understand that, accept that and leverage that. Having power and influence in an organisational system should not all look the same. When women join men in being influential in business we all win.
Maria Sitaramayya, Vice President of Human Resources at Unisys Asia Pacific
The value of gender equality is that it allows us to have a diverse perspective. A different way of doing things when making decisions and executing our strategy will ultimately drive better business results. We strongly believe that having women in leadership positions increases retention, productivity and profitability. Most women have a bent toward collaboration and pragmatism which can be invaluable to all aspects of business. Our aim is to support high performing women, continue to develop women leaders and create a strong network across our region.
In terms of gender equality, 42% of the Unisys APAC workforce is female. And 25% of our Asia Pacific Leadership Team roles are held by women, higher than the Australian average of 23%. But we are keen continue to drive toward true balance.
We believe diversity of all kinds – gender, age, background, culture and so on – is essential for creating not only a balanced workplace, but also well-rounded and appropriate solutions for our clients and their customers.
Vicky Skipp, Head of Growth ANZ, Workplace by Facebook
In 2012 the Harvard Business Review published an evaluation of the competency model for leadership development, created by Zenger Folkman, which revealed women are in possession of more qualities that fit the typical ‘leader personality’. The model highlighted how typically women are more ahead in terms of self-awareness and self-development, demonstrated empathy at a higher rate and were more able to influence and manage conflict. All of these qualities are those that are attributed to a successful leader. And to be, they are just as relevant seven years later.
At Workplace by Facebook, we believe in diverse workforces for the very reason that the Zenger Folkman framework and our 2018/2019 Workplace for Good Social Impact Report highlights – better decisions and greater impact is made by diverse teams. Having influential women in business will not only positively impact a company’s bottom line, by bringing inherent strengths to a team, it will also encourage those entire teams to foster such skills. By nature, the mission of collaboration tools is connect people and to give everyone a voice. Which, in regards to gender, will help foster a team of influential leaders. We believe that diverse and inclusive environments will lead to more opinions and ideas, and as a result, more successful outcomes.
Emma Pudney, Director, Architecture, Onboarding and Professional Services at Rackspace
For a number of reasons, diversity in business simply makes good business sense. A lack of gender diversity can affect the way new products and technologies are developed often with disastrous consequences. Creating products in this way not only fails to address the needs of consumers, but it also leaves money on the table and isolates fifty percent of the population from products and services. Conversely, businesses that foster diversity and inclusion have higher employee retention, advanced problem solving and therefore better business outcomes. In terms of attracting talent, gender diversity is also a no-brainer because by elevating influential women, more influential women will want to work for you.
There is a real confidence gap for women looking to apply for more senior, technical and business roles who feel that they need to ‘prove’ themselves before applying for the job. If women don’t see other women pursuing these types of careers, they find it difficult to envision themselves in similar roles. A lack of representation of women within STEM and technology fields in particular, acts as an inhibitor to career progression. My advice to women in business and tech is to remember that whether an opportunity has been presented to you or whether you have had to fight for your seat at the table, be confident, speak up and seek out allies within your business. Who knows? You may even give another woman the confidence to speak up herself.
Sue Keay, Research Director Cyber-Physical Systems at CSIRO’s Data61
A Harvard Business Review study released last month found that women scored higher than men on almost every leadership skill, with women being rated as more effective than men in 84% of the competencies that excellent leaders are measured against including resilience, powerful communication and bold leadership. Despite this, the percentage of women in senior business roles in Australia remains low, with the percentage of those working in technology even lower still.
I am passionate about celebrating influential women in business and tech and encouraging them to thrive in traditionally male-dominated fields. This is important because we cannot develop technologies that are representative of the communities which they are intended to serve unless women play a much more active role in this space. I am grateful to the local steering committee who enthusiastically heeded my call and am elated to bring this year’s inaugural Hopper Down Under event to Australia – an event hosted by AnitaB.org – which serves as a platform for influential women to grow, learn and connect with other women in similar situations.
Megan Dalla-Camina, Co-founder Lead Like a Woman and Author of Simple Soulful Sacred
Women are still dramatically underrepresented in positions of influence in business, and the needle has not shifted much in the recent years. It’s no longer just a social imperative to have more women in business, it’s critical for financial success. Women bring highly valuable traits to business and leadership that can be missing from workplaces, and that research shows people are wanting and needing from leaders today and into the future. Women often have greater access to their feminine traits in business, and tend to influence differently from their male counterparts, bringing much needed aspects of collaboration, working for the collective good, vulnerability and connection.
Linda Jackson, HR Director at Avanade
When innovation is at the core of your business and culture, you cannot risk any forms of exclusion.
When we have women who are visible in leadership and passionate to make a genuine human impact, they become role models and inspire people both in and outside of the organization. They help other women in the organisation feel confident and cared for. Their presence and participation forces different perspectives to be considered, voices to be heard and taken seriously at the board table. Their involvement in building a more inclusive workforce would reduces unconscious bias against gender from the interview process through to performance reviews and promotions.
Gender diversity allows us to create bold, fresh ideas for our clients and for our people. That is why at Avanade we encourage more girls to pursue STEM education and careers, we are intentional about diversity across all roles and in leadership, and we nurture an environment where everyone can grow thriving careers and lead fulfilling lives.
Jade Meara, Head of Marketing, ANZ, F5 Networks
The lack of female representation and leadership, especially in Australia’s STEM sector, continues to be a key problem—and the industry has a long way to go before fully achieving equality and true diversity. According to the FiTT 2018 Diversity Report, the average percentage of women occupying roles in the Telecommunications, Media, and Technology Sectors sits at 26%, with even less occupying Executive roles (23%). Females in leadership roles are vital to dispelling the notion of a ‘glass ceiling’ in corporations, and also help connect female STEM talent to a new breed of mentors. It’s no wonder that only 48% of Generation Z women (aged 16 to 24) believe they are capable of a STEM career. There is clear demand for influential women in business and the technology industry to take the lead and encourage the next generation of female talent to enter the STEM workforce.
Tara Commerford, Vice President and Managing Director, GoDaddy ANZ
Having women in senior leadership roles is more important now than ever before. Having spent over a decade in senior leadership positions in the technology industry, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much work still needs to be done to achieve equality. Discussion around quotas is no longer enough. We should be thinking about the practical things we can do to help guide, mentor and connect the next generation of women who are progressing through the ranks.
Mentoring programs, female-led startup incubators to boost the percentage of women securing funding, and simply calling out the diversity issue are critically important in elevating women and connecting them to the right people and opportunities. The value of strong, female role models is key to opening up the door for the next wave of female managers, who need to be inspired by seeing and hearing women who have gone before them. Organisations like the Dream Collective do this well; they train, support, mentor and encourage women in middle level management and help them feel less isolated and more valued along the way. If we do this – not just in the technology sector, but every sector – we can help encourage more women to pursue executive leadership positions.
Gemma Lloyd, co-CEO of WORK180
Any business that wants to succeed knows that women employees — and more broadly speaking, a diverse workforce — are integral to its long-term success.
You can only be what you see, and considering that half of our workforce is female, having female leaders to aspire to can only result in in a good outcome for everyone.
A 2017 PwC report found that 61 per cent of female job candidates look at the diversity of the employer’s leadership before applying, and 67 per cent at whether the company the want to apply to has positive role models similar to them.
More than half (56%) also look at the organisation’s track record of sharing its progress on diversity
More recent PwC research shows that 86% of female and 74% of male millennials consider employers’ policies on diversity, equality and inclusion when deciding which company to work for.
And considering millennials will have the greatest share of spending power by 2020, listening to this cohort is one of the smartest business moves around. It’s also no secret that profit margins go up when you have a diverse leadership (usually followed by a diverse workforce) team.
Having access to people of different backgrounds and a variety of lived experiences also means more creative solutions to problems which would otherwise be difficult to solve. This inevitably translates into better services and products, which reflects the reality of the world — and not the privileged minority.
Elizabeth Marchant, Founder of Full-Time Woman and Group CEO Recognition PR, Write Away Communication and Outsource
Diversity of thought is essential for businesses to thrive. Overlooking qualified women for leadership roles, either deliberately or due to unconscious bias, means missing out on half the talent pool. More influential women in business means more opportunities for other smart, talented women to aim for leadership positions.
The knock-on effect of more women in leadership roles is that businesses will be better positioned to get the best people possible in each role. This will help those businesses outperform their competitors and contribute to the economy more substantially.
Influential women help the men in their organisation learn and develop just as much as they help other women. Providing diversity of thought, different perspectives, and a collaborative approach helps every member of the team maximise their individual performance, contributing to the success of the business overall.
Ceri Ittensohn (Chief People & Culture Officer at TAL)
At TAL we provide protection for 4.5 million Australians, and we believe it’s important that we have a workforce that reflects the diversity of our customers and community. But just having a diverse workforce is not enough. To really leverage the benefits of diversity, we foster a culture that values the different experiences and perspectives that diversity can bring. Having influential women in the business – at all levels – helps to build and reinforce this culture, and ensure we are encouraging and listening to different views and insights in order to support better business decisions and innovative thinking. Influential women are role models for others, encouraging and enabling progress in the workforce, and acting as strong magnets to attract other talent.
We are proud of all the influential women we have at TAL at every level – who are making a difference for our business and the industry every day.
Jess Renden, Operations Manager at cryptocurrency exchange platform, Cointree
Women play an important role in all parts of life, particularly business.
Women in business have the ability to draw from life experiences and provide new and diverse perspectives – influential leaders empower their peers to aspire to new heights and to take on challenges that come their way.
Working in the cryptocurrency industry (this is a highly male dominated space), I try to inspire women every day to step into something new and exciting.
I believe that women who are passionate about what they do, can build and create incredible businesses while serving as role models and inspiring other women. As a mother, I strive to show my daughter that pursuing a career that you are passionate about is something to be proud of and something to always work towards.
Anna Ji, Director of Product and Growth at video platform, Clipchamp
We’ve seen over the past few years quantifiable benefits of gender diversity in business, and there’s nothing more effective for gender diversity in my experience than having women in influential positions. Yet most tech companies are still struggling with acquiring female leaders.
Companies are organic structures that often grow like cell divisions, so having strong women leaders means you’ll attract even more and it’s best if you hire one early in the lifecycle of the company.
It helps to minimise the likelihood of bro culture and ensures other forms of diversity are also embraced, which are important aspects when attracting quality candidates who may be hesitant to join the company otherwise.
Having these role models often mean young female employees don’t feel disconnected from the company culture and mission.
Cat Prestipino, CMO of people management platform, Employment Hero
If we are going to bridge the gender equality gap, we need influential women in our workplaces.
The gap stems from numerous different points where there was inequality in the workplace, particularly when you look at leadership roles. But when it comes to women in business, the verdict is in. When women are in key influential roles, businesses are 15 per cent more profitable, 20 per cent more innovative and their people are 24 per cent happier.
Diversity is key when it comes to building an innovative and successful company. Blending together people with different skill sets and different points of view in a safe, inclusive place builds stronger, more productive and more creative teams.
As well as providing a more diverse range of thinking, influential women provide role models and mentoring for younger women, to develop them professionally. This helps retain the next generation and helps them see a career path to bigger roles.
Alex Hattingh, Chief People Officer of people management platform, Employment Hero
I was the only girl in my year at high school who had a full-time working mother. My mother was a high-profile lawyer but she also took up the mantle of working mothers everywhere and was integral in getting subsidised childcare and more childcare spaces in NSW. In 1985, she was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) for her service to the community, particularly in the field of Women’s Affairs.
For me, having a mother who was able to influence decisions, add diverse views and was a strong role model, illustrated that women were vital to the community as professionals, in ensuring all families’ needs were taken care of equally. She was a fantastic mentor for me forging my career internationally. Without mentors who are influential in business, we would not be able to visualise the impact we can have in business and as leaders.
Felicia Coco, Co-founder and Director at tech PR firm, LaunchLink Communications
The presence of influential women in business, both as founders and senior executives, allows diverse perspectives and experiences to sit at the core of the strategic direction of the business. But we already know diversity in business is good for the bottom line. Having women in decision-making roles creates visibility and reinforces the notion that we can be leaders and have power in our careers.
Having women in leadership is not just about meeting quotas. ticking boxes or making smarter commercial decisions. Lack of influential women is a company culture flaw that builds unfavourable power dynamics into the workforce. Too often women battle with self-doubt, from imposter syndrome, hesitance to ask for a raise, reluctance to interview for a more senior role, or are fearful of starting their own business. We’re taught negative connotations about influential women from an early age – that we shouldn’t be “bossy”, or that fellow women in the workforce should be seen as threats we need to compete with.
As women, it’s important that we recognise, support and build each other up at all levels, because the more representation and success we experience in the business world, the more organisations succeed in the long run.
Jacinta Jones, Chief Customer Officer at independent, employee choice-of-fund platform Roll-it Super
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” This was originally quoted by former US Secretary of State and Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, and then later rolled out and given wings by Taylor Swift.
I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of this statement.
Influential women in business are absolutely critical to the success of any organisation. These ladies shine greatest when they naturally support women around them and are leading a path for future success. I have been lucky enough to work with some incredibly bright and influential women in my career and I can say they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are the quiet achievers and then there are those that absolutely pop and there is no missing them.
The one thing I believe they all have in common is their ego is subtle, parked at the door almost, and they listen, really listen. Watch a woman that spends more time really listening in a meeting than talking and you are most likely in the presence of an influential woman driving outcomes.