Diversity is a huge global problem and the quest for gender equality in the workplace continues to be a key talking point. Although men and women may enter the workplace at similar levels, with similar qualifications and career aspirations, their career paths often take different turns.

From my experience of working within the safety industry and collecting evidence via client feedback, the equality gap is still evident. Women still remain in the minority when it comes to gaining top senior positions within organisations worldwide.

Is this the case for all sectors?

Not according to a recent report by the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), they show that 42 per cent of directors appointed to the boards of Australia’s top 200 listed companies so far this year have been women, compared with just 5 per cent when the Institute began collecting data in 2009.

Top of the list is Medicare Private, with women making up more than 70 per cent of its board. “Boards languishing at the bottom of the list were old-fashioned and out-of-touch, and risked being left behind,” said AICD’s managing director John Brogden. His message to those boards that are still all male is simple; they need to embrace diversity and realise the benefits it can bring to their organisation.

Companies with the highest percentage of women on their boards:

  • Medibank Private – health insurance provider with 71.4 per cent
  • Woolworths Ltd – retailer with 50 per cent
  • AMP Limited – financial services company with 50 percent
  • Mirvac Limited – property group with 50 per cent
  • Boral Limited – multinational dealing in building and construction materials with 50 per cent
  • Nine Entertainment Co. Holdings Limited – media company with 50 per cent

The benefits of women in senior leadership
According to Australian Social Trends – Women in Leadership; Women bring new ideas, different decision-making strategies and communication styles, which can have positive effects on board function and company management.

They put forward a number of benefits as to the advantages of increasing female representation at senior levels including:

  • Women on boards can provide insights into consumer behaviour for women, and their presence improves company and brand reputations – especially for the female market.
  • Companies and organisations miss half the talent pool by not investing in gender diversity.
  • Women in management positions serve as role models for others; they encourage the career development of women and ensure the pipeline of qualified and experienced women remains open.
  • Companies with female CEOs, board membership and senior management are more profitable.
  • Equal representation of women and men in leadership roles allows quality outcomes for all Australians by ensuring the issues, perspectives and needs of women and men are equally represented in decision-making processes.

The equal representation of women and men in leadership roles has clear benefits for organisations and research has demonstrated that diverse boards perform better and achieve bigger profits.

The question must be, therefore, “Why aren’t there more women in senior positions in the safety industry?”

Moreover, “What is holding them back?”