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Why is Australia seeing fewer female CEOs?

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Fewer women are running the country’s top 200 ASX-listed companies in 2020 compared to the last four years, according to the Chief Executive Women (CEW) ASX200 census report released last week. 

The report found that the amount of female CEOs of the ASX200 companies has declined from 14 to 10 since 2018. It also found the percentage of Executive Leadership Teams with female representation is at only 25 per cent. 

Rebecca Wilson is the chair of Alcidion, a health informatics business, which is one of only 23 ASX200 companies with a female chair, as well as the only All Tech ASX200 company with a female CEO. When the census report was released she said she “wasn’t surprised, but really disappointed.”

“I think it really comes down to the approach that has been taken,” said Rebecca.

“Boards tend to default to the status quo. This means they go to the same directors and aren’t supporting a new generation of diverse CEOs.”

Rebecca says that this issue isn’t one relevant just to women, but for anyone in a minority.

“It’s not simply about women. We need to be thinking divergently to get the most out of our businesses.”

“The biggest advantage for women is that they are different to men. They’re not better or worse, but they’re different, and that’s what we want,” she says. “We want different people contributing to get the very best outcomes of the businesses that we create.”

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The report found that improving the leadership pipeline is crucial to women progressing to the top roles in corporate Australia. 

Over the last few years, CEO appointments have predominantly come from line roles and CFO roles. The report says: “This highlights the potential to invest in female talent management and succession planning into line roles to strengthen the CEO pipeline.”

Rebecca agrees with this sentiment, explaining that it is important that women see that they’ve got a career pathway within an organisation.

When Rebecca was pregnant with her first child, she was made a partner of the consulting firm she was working for. She attributes the success of her application to her attitude, and the support she was given by a male colleague. 

“I just loved that I was brave enough to put myself forward and say, “I can do this, and I want this, and being pregnant isn’t a part of the consideration.””

“But more than that, I had a very strong male mentor, who agreed being pregnant was irrelevant. It’s behaviour like this that shows women that they can journey to be whatever they want to be without being held back.”

When asked what advice she would give to women striving for leadership positions, Rebecca said: “Don’t set boundaries.”

“Take every opportunity that’s given to you. Stake your claim on something that you really love and are passionate about, and pursue all of the opportunities that are in front of you.”


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Ellie Dudley
Ellie Dudley
Ellie Dudley is a journalist at Dynamic Business with a background in the startup space and current affairs reporting . She has a specific interest in foreign investment and the Australian economy.