In 2020, Chief Executive Women’s ASX200 Senior Executive Census 2020 found that just one out of the year’s 25 CEO appointments in ASX200 companies was a woman – in previous years this had been growing and had reached double digits.
Across the ASX200, only 12% of ELT line roles – roles with profit and loss accountability that are generally feeders to the CEO position – are held by women, and 65% of ASX200 companies have no women in ELT line roles, an increase from 57% in 2019.
Jo Gaines, Saleforce’s AVP Cloud Sales & Co-VP Salesforce Women's Network JAPAC, caught up with Jo Horgan, founder and Co-CEO of MECCA, to talk about why the inclusion of women in leadership teams is not just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.
Jo Gaines: We know that diversity in a company’s leadership improves the bottom line. But this year, COVID has disproportionately affected women in terms of workplace participation and remuneration. As we move from short-term solutions to COVID’s challenges into the post-COVID economy, how can we address this?
Jo Horgan: Women make up 50.2% of the population, but even before COVID represented only 37.6% of full-time employees. Women earn less, have fewer savings, make up 68% of the part-time workforce and are more likely to be part of single-parent households.
Women were already underrepresented and more disadvantaged, then COVID disproportionately affected female-dominated sectors like retail, hospitality and childcare.
We had made so many positive gains and were slowly but surely getting closer to workplace equality than we have been, and we cannot let that slide.
A lot of the initiatives that were put in place during COVID were fantastic short-term support measures, but all the statistics are showing that women have been more disadvantaged as we come through the pandemic. To get back to pre-COVID levels, we need to be accountable for addressing the disadvantages that COVID amplified.
Jo Gaines: What steps can businesses take to carry on the momentum that we had pre-COVID and get back to positive gains?
Jo Horgan: What gives me some hope is that humanity has shown how flexible it can be. It’s shown how it can pivot to adjust to the circumstances that were in front of it during COVID.
We need to apply the same level of creativity to this great issue facing us: the gender equality gap. So how do we address it?
“Participation is the most important lever for economic growth.”
One thing is we need to have more women in leadership roles now. You can only be what you can see, so you need women to be there to inspire others. More women in leadership roles will help remove some of the barriers women face in those roles, making it possible to get more women at the leadership table. And having more women at the leadership table is beneficial for business. Women bring a different perspective and often have a more collaborative leadership style. The benefits of their insights and the diverse experience they bring to leadership are evident in the research.
I always try to come back to the economics because nobody can argue with the numbers – increasing the number of women in CEO and other leadership roles, and on boards can increase the market value of a company by 6%.
On the flip side, we also need the government to step in and provide more affordable childcare so that women can participate in work without financial penalty. It’s the right thing to do, with the added benefit of economic growth.
Participation is the most important lever for economic growth, and access to affordable childcare could be the single greatest unlocker of increased female participation in the workforce. The evidence shows that increasing women’s workforce participation leads to better living standards for individuals and families, improves the bottom line of businesses and is a significant driver of national economic growth.
Jo Gaines: You’ve also spoken about education as the greatest tool for eliminating gender inequality – what’s the role of business in supporting educational initiatives?
Jo Horgan: Absolutely, education is so powerful in eliminating gender inequality globally, and secondary school is the most critical stage. Girls who finish secondary school around the world are more likely to participate in the workforce and earn more. Also, education gives you confidence and exposure to career possibilities. When a woman is educated, she brings her family and community with her – everybody benefits.
That’s why through MECCA M-Power, we partner with three organisations that help girls from disadvantaged backgrounds complete secondary school: the Skyline Education Foundation in Victoria; Stars Foundation, which supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls and young women in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Victoria; and CAMFED, our international partner in Africa.
Our goal is to support the education of 10,000 girls by 2025. We will also bring four million MECCA customers with us on this journey of what is possible through female education, including the positive impact girls’ education has on climate change.
“Access to affordable childcare could be the single greatest unlocker of increased female participation in the workforce.”
Jo Gaines: Salesforce is a great supporter of educational initiatives as well, and we are with you in believing in the importance of bringing your customer and community on the journey too – on using the business’s platform, influence and voice to drive positive change, whether that’s equal access to quality education, marriage equality or pay equality.
And we hear a lot that women are less likely to ask for that pay rise, that next promotion. There’s that old stat about women needing to satisfy all of the selection criteria before they apply for a role while men are confident with just satisfying a few.
Do you think that women need to be more intentional about their goals and in establishing their credibility?
Jo Horgan: I think it’s very difficult to say to people “Just lean in” without providing women the upbringing and mentorship to be confident in doing that. You have to question all the reasons women lack the confidence in the first place.
It goes back to ‘you can only be what you can see’. I think the question is, how do we make sure that companies provide the platform for women to participate equally in all opportunities?
I look at how many women at MECCA have gone on to create their own companies – they’re in a company that’s run by women, so it seems like the most natural thing in the world. If we want more women to put their hands up for leadership positions, we need to educate girls, mentor women, advocate for women, be examples and provide examples of leadership, and clear barriers to women’s workforce participation.