And then there were six.
The retirement of Gail Kelly from Westpac leaves just half a dozen female CEOs in the ASX200.
Australia has the lowest percentage of women in top executive roles, compared with countries which have similar corporate structures, according to the last Census of Women in Leadership.
Frankly, it’s an international embarrassment. No wonder Gail Kelly once wished she could “stretch International Women’s Day to a year”.
“Female leaders are important for role modelling, because you can’t be what you can’t see,” says Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council Australia. “The organisation changes by osmosis.”
Part of that biological process is setting targets: 40 per cent of women in leadership positions by 2014, reached by 2012; now, the bank is aiming for 50 per cent by 2017.
This is important in a sector with a 30 per cent gender pay gap.
The reasons are multifaceted: unconscious, affinity and confirmatory bias in a traditionally male-dominated industry; historically inflexible working hours and conditions; and discretionary bonus systems.
As part of her plan to “tackle gender inequality head-on”, Kelly put her money where her mouth was, initiating a gender pay gap analysis, more flexible work hours, and paid parental leave including superannuation.
This is not just “touchy-feely” stuff: diversity, at all levels, boosts the bottom line.
As the mother-of-four said recently, at the Westpac and Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence Awards, “ensuring women have the opportunity to more flexibly balance paid work and unpaid caring… will make a tangible difference to the economic prosperity of Australia”.
A Goldman Sachs JBWere report recommends closing the gap between male and female employment rates to boost Australia’s GDP by 11 per cent.
Meanwhile, research by the Reibey Institute reveals ASX500 companies with women directors deliver significantly higher return on equity than those without.
And McKinsey & Co’s Women Matter series confirms certain leadership styles, typically adopted by women, are “critical to performing well in the post-crisis world”.
(Hence the joke “If it was called Lehman Sisters, instead of Lehman Brothers, the GFC mightn’t have happened”.)
Yet, despite Kelly’s success – as the first female CEO of a Big Four bank, increasing the value of Westpac shares 25.7 per cent since 2008 – she’s criticised internally for displaying “traditional male traits”.
“Her view on parenting is very old-school,” one executive complains, privately. “You know, just farm the kids out to a nanny.”
“She didn’t have any women on her executive committee early on. I think she didn’t like the competition,” says another.
But such suggestions are unfair. They’re never made about male bosses. Sadly, our few female leaders are held up for forensic scrutiny.
Kelly’s replacement, Brian Hartzer, talks the talk, telling a Committee for Economic Development lunch, “Unconscious bias deserves much more attention than it has received to date”.
He says he believes in, “targets, not quotas”.
(Interestingly, this is the mantra of four key international organisations at the G20, pushing for voluntary targets for representation of women in both public and private sectors.)
As Gail Kelly once said: “It’s up to every leader to call out gender equality as a key priority for their organisation. It takes more than just words; you need a clear plan with measurable outcomes”.
She leaves an indelible legacy.
“Female CEOs remain a rare breed,” says Helen Conway, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. “So the success of prominent women like Gail Kelly is of symbolic importance – inspiring other women, and challenging the male CEO stereotype.”
It’s a heavy burden to bear for the remaining six.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/westpacs-gail-kelly-retires-and-now-its-even-lonelier-for-the-few-women-at-the-top-20141113-11lraq.html#ixzz3rHTvXStD