Australia lags behind Europe and South East Asia on workplace gender equality
7 March 2012
The proportion of Australian women holding private sector senior management roles has dropped by 3% ranking Australia 21st globally, according to the latest research from Grant Thornton.
The figures released today from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR) reveal that just below one in four (24%) senior management positions in private businesses surveyed in Australia are held by women, down from 27% in 2011.
Nicole Bradley, Head of Grant Thornton Australia’s Diversity initiative DAWN, says this steady drop-off in gender equality in Australia’s private sector is a real concern.
“The worry is that we may be reaching the point where Australian standards are lagging behind the rest of the world. Although organisations such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors and many large corporates have been progressive in this area, this drop in representation shows there is more work to be done.”
“The last thing we want to see is a race to mediocrity where the proportion of women in senior roles bottoms out and stagnates for a number of years, or indeed that Australia loses talent because women are not getting the opportunities or are opting out of the workforce altogether,” Bradley said.
Ms. Bradley called for organisations to set clear targets around key indicators, which they hold themselves accountable to.
“It is my view that measurable goals are more likely to be achieved.”
“There needs to be continued public discussion and benchmarks set on the implementation of policies and practices like flexible work arrangements, diversity programs, and the availability and affordability of child care that will enable and encourage women remain and continue to progress in the workplace,” she said.
While Australia has been a strong global contender on gender equality issues in recent years - ranking in the top 10 in 2011 - European countries clearly took the lead this year with the proportion of women holding senior management roles steadily increasing despite rising
unemployment. Surprisingly, countries like Russia, Botswana, Thailand, the Philippines, New Zealand, Vietnam and China continue to outrank Australia on this issue.
Similar falls have been recorded in other Asia Pacific economies (25% in 2009 down to 19% in 2012), and the BRIC economies (30% in 2009 down to 26% in 2012). The fall in these emerging markets, where businesses have historically employed more females in senior roles, have resulted in a global average at 21%, barely higher than the 2004 level.
The IBR suggests that offering a flexible working environment could help reverse this trend. Nearly two thirds of businesses in the EU (65%), where the proportion of women in senior management roles is increasing, currently offer flexible working. This is well ahead of Latin America (49%), the BRIC economies (36%) and Asia Pacific (32%).
However Bradley says given the fact that more than three quarters of private businesses in Australia already offer some form of flexible working program, it seems Australia has its own unique challenges.
“To really make some headway on this issue, the Australian private sector needs to address other factors, such as the perception of those on flexible arrangements, as well as the high cost and low availability of childcare,” she said.
Of the 40 economies surveyed, businesses in Russia employ the most women in senior management (46%), ahead of Botswana, Thailand and the Philippines (all 39%), whilst Italy ranks highest in Europe (36%). Bottom of the table is Japan, where only 5% of senior management positions are filled by women, below Germany (13%), India (14%) and Denmark (15%). The biggest risers over the past 12 months include Turkey (25% to 31%), and the United Arab Emirates (8% to 15%), results that suggest that the wave of economic liberalisation in the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring could have boosted the chances of women in the region reaching the top.
About Grant Thornton
Grant Thornton Australia provides audit, tax and advisory services to dynamic, growing organisations and is a single national firm operating from eight offices, with over 150 Partners, more than 1,300 people across Australia and national turnover of AUD $245 million. Grant Thornton International is the fastest growing international accounting network in the world, with a global turnover of US$3.7 billion and more than 30,000 people and 2,500 partners.
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Notes to editors
The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) provides insight into the views and expectations of 12,000 businesses per year across 40 economies. This unique survey draws upon 20 years of trend data for most European participants and nine years for many non-European economies. For more information, please visit: www.internationalbusinessreport.com.
The research is carried out primarily by telephone interview lasting approximately 15 minutes with the exception of Japan (postal), Philippines and Armenia (face to face),
mainland China and India (mixture of face-to-face and telephone) where cultural differences dictate a tailored approach.
Data collection is managed by Grant Thornton International's core research partner - Experian. Questionnaires are translated into local languages with each participating country having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. Fieldwork is undertaken on a quarterly basis.
IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release are drawn from interviews with 6,000 businesses across the globe conducted between November 2011 and February 2012.
The target respondents are chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives (title dependent on what is most appropriate for the individual country) from 40 economies primarily across five sectors: manufacturing (25 per cent), services (25 per cent), retail (15 per cent) and construction (10 per cent) with the remaining 25 per cent spread across all sectors.
|Group/Region||Economies included in IBR|
|Asia-Pacific (APAC||Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, China (mainland), Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam|
|Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)||Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam|
|BRIC||Brazil, Russia, India, China (mainland)|
|European Union (EU)||Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom|
|G7||Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States of America|
|Latin America||Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru|
|Nordic||Denmark, Finland, Sweden|
|North America||Canada, United States of America|
|Other||Armenia, Botswana, Georgia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates|