There is an enormous opportunity for industrial companies in Australia that invest in diversity initiatives.
McKinsey & Co research has revealed already that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
It would be a rare company that did not seek out that sort of impact.
At present though there is a way to go in our industrial sector where women currently hold just 10 per cent of the line roles and 30 per cent of the functional roles in executive leadership.
Chief Executive Women, which analysed the gender makeup of the ASX200, also found that 41 of the 200 have no women in executive roles, and 126 companies (or 63%) have no women in line roles.
I believe this is an opportunity gap that savvy business leaders now want to address.
As the industrial practice lead with Derwent Executive I work with Boards and CEOs seeking to fill senior executive roles. I’m always keen to field as many strong women candidates as possible. The challenge is when only one in ten line roles is held by a woman today, the pipeline is slender.
There is however a number of highly effective and very successful women in senior roles in the industrial sector already – and these are the beacons for future generations of women executives now rising through the ranks
I asked these female leaders to share with me their journeys and experiences. I wanted to understand how they got to their current level, what obstacles they had to navigate, how they think we can tackle the challenge, and what insights they could share with other women coming up through the ranks.
Their insights are also really useful to senior executive men and industrial sector leaders who might simply never have thought of these issues because they’ve never experienced them personally.
Understanding the often-unconscious bias that can exist in organisations is an important first step toward redressing the gender imbalance.
Take the experience of one now senior executive who was once told by a male colleague to change the way she walked if she wanted to be taken seriously; another had to navigate around a CEO who didn’t believe anyone should progress through the business unless they had started out on the shop floor of the business.
Jennifer Purdie noted that “even as a talented, capable and experienced person, you can be in a context and culture where you are not able to make a contribution and be successful. The factors that determine this are hard to assess from outside a role. If you take a risk of this nature and it doesn’t come off, you need to get out before it destroys your confidence and self-esteem.”
The women who have progressed their careers to become industrial sector leaders are fiercely pragmatic, and prepared to share great practical insights with their peers and other women entering the sector. They all acknowledge that there’s hard work involved to create a successful career – but also that there are great personal and professional rewards to be reaped.
And that’s an important message because this group understands keenly that we need to encourage more women to undertake engineering degrees, which has proved a hard sell over the years. But if you can’t see it you can’t be it – by giving these women more of a profile I’m hoping young women will see that there are fantastic, stimulating and important careers to be carved out in the industrial sector.
I’m also keen for the industrial sector leaders of today to get a deeper understanding of the clear benefit of greater diversity and work with us to create programs that will bring that to reality.
As a group, the women I engaged with don’t like the idea of quotas, largely because of the negative connotations that attend a quota system – but most are in favour of aspirational targets and holding business to account when it doesn’t meet them.
It is challenging to try to shift the dial on gender balance in industrials, but I believe it is important and that there are great careers to be had by both men and women. And as for business itself – it’s hard to ignore the McKinsey research on diversity – after all, who doesn’t want a competitive advantage?
Finally, thanks to all women who engaged with me and whose views I’ll share more broadly in this series, in particular thanks to;
- Adelle Howse – Principal, Structuring for Performance; Deputy Chairman Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute
- Andrea Pidcock - Executive General Manager, CSR Lightweight Systems
- Gabrielle Martinovich – Director, Definitude Consulting
- Jayne Whitney - Chief Strategy Officer, John Holland; Director & Deputy Chairman, ISCA (The Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia)
- Jennifer Purdie - Chief Executive Officer, Adani Australia Renewables
- Lee de Winton – CEO, Sydney Metro Airports (Bankstown & Camden)
- Mariela Millington - Chief Information Officer, Brightstar APAC
- Shona Fitzgerald - Managing Director, CRC Industries
I’m hoping to add more insights over the course of this series.
Helen Hall is a Partner at Derwent