85% women but are they equally represented at the top? New Gender Audit

18 November 2011

We know that the community sector employs around 85% women, yet there is little knowledge about the gendered nature of senior management and board positions within Australia’s vital community and social services sector.

The Australian Council of Social Service, YWCA Australia and Women on Boards, today launched the Gender Audit of Charities and Community Services at the annual ACOSS Policy Forum, which should shed some light on the issue.

“We know that female representation at senior levels in organisations in general is a major issue. And yet, as we celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day this year, there is a significant gap in our understanding of the extent of female leadership in the female dominated community not-for-profit sector. This audit is an extremely important step to address that knowledge gap,” said ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“The UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women recognises the importance of women, on equal terms with men, participating in ‘non-governmental organisations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country’. But in Australia we have no data to enable us to measure whether the community sector is achieving this,” Executive Director of YWCA, Dr Caroline Lambert said.

“This isn’t only a fundamental issue of equality but it actually makes good business sense for organisations to have gender balance at all levels,” Ruth Medd, Chair, Women on Boards, said.

“For instance the 2011 Reibey Institute report on ASX500 Women Leaders notes that ASX500 companies with women directors delivered an average return on investment over three years 6.7% higher than those without women directors. Companies with women directors delivered an average ROE over 5 years 8.7% higher than those without women directors. In 8 out of 10 sectors, companies with women directors demonstrate higher returns on investment than those without women directors.

“Other evidence examining the strength and scope of women’s leadership in companies across the world points to the importance of organisations’ identifying gender diversity as a key priority. The McKinsey and Company ‘Women Matters’ report notes that CEO commitment and women’s individual development programs plays a particularly important part of successful strategies.

“From the YWCA experience we know this to be the case. YWCA globally and nationally have quotas in place to ensure that young women are represented in the governance bodies of the organisation. Our experience demonstrates the importance of backing up quotas with culture-changing development programs, such as the Board Traineeships offered by the YWCA of Canberra and their Women out Front leadership program which provides women with a short-course on Director’s duties and a forum to explore women’s leadership style,” Dr Lambert said.

“I encourage the whole community services sector to take part in this crucial audit, which promises to shape our vision for the future of gender diversity not only in our sector but also in Australian workplaces more generally,” Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

The Gender Audit opens today and runs until 12 December with results to be released to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, 2012.

For further information visit the ACOSS website