23/01/2007 - 22:00

Promotion key to career pathway

23/01/2007 - 22:00


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Whether they are a government minister or a laboratory scientist, women across WA are getting runs on the board. But there are added challenges as they juggle demanding careers with family responsibilities.

Promotion key to career pathway

There are about 3,000 directors of listed companies in Western Australia but only 76, or 2.6 per cent, of them are women.

The number of women making it into senior management roles, and on to company boards, has been creeping up but the growth rate is far too slow, according to employment experts.

For instance, in a little more than two years, the number of women holding board directorships in Australia’s biggest 200 listed companies has increased just 0.5 per cent to 8.7 per cent.

An obvious stumbling block for women is the time taken out of the workforce to have children and, when returning to work, the juggling act between the two competing interests.

Women account for nearly 50 per cent of the workforce and getting more of them to the senior ranks will involve more employers offering flexible working environments, according to several business women spoken to by WA Business News this week.

Another common response to the issue of getting more women into senior roles and onto boards was that women have to get better at promoting themselves.

 “The guys are better at networking and referring each other,” said Lisa Scaffidi, Western Australia director for the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.

“Women need to be more open and recommend each other for positions if they can’t take it on.”

Allison Gaines, who runs Gerard Daniels’ board consulting division, said women, particularly in WA, needed to use their networks as well as getting “board ready” by getting experience on committees and completing courses from associations such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Ms Gaines said women were underrepresented on WA boards, with females accounting for just 4 per cent of non-executive director positions compared with 11 per cent of women holding non-executive positions among the country’s top 200 listed companies.

She added that, of WA’s top 35 companies, just 9 per cent had a female in a non-executive role.

Meanwhile, research compiled from the WA Business News 2007 Book of Lists revealed that women occupy just 2.6 per cent of executive and non-executive roles.

“Part of that is structural,” Ms Gaines said. “We have a large resources sector and a lot of those companies have small boards and a lot of them look for people with a mining or engineering background; there are not a lot of women with those skills.

“But the other part is behavioural and a lot of people rely on recommendations from people they trust. It is not often that they will seek professional advice on appointments to the board.”

Zelinda Bafile is currently in the process of drawing on her network in the hope of securing positions on boards of listed companies.

Ms Bafile, Home Building Society’s former in-house counsel, is the chair of the board of management, Resources Unit for Children with Special Needs, and a council member for Friends of the Perth International Arts Festival.

Ms Bafile said she was meeting as many people as possible to talk about her ambitions and reinforce her corporate governance background.

“You can put yourself on as many lists as you like but more and more people are becoming aware that it is about word of mouth and people that you know,” she told WA Business News.

Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency director Anna McPhee said it was disappointing that more women were not on the boards of listed companies.

She said 50 per cent of listed companies did not have a female representative on their board.

 “I think organisations need to look at what is taking place in their organisations with regard executive women – their attraction, retention and the barriers that they may face in advancing into non-traditional areas,” Ms McPhee said.

Ms Scaffidi, who is also a Perth City councillor and sits on not-for-profit boards, agrees that flexible working hours would help more women make it to the top.

“There has to be a serious attempt to address this cultural change required to enable people to have different hours of availability,” she said.

The most recent statistics available from the Office for Women’s Policy reveals that flexibility in working hours is decreasing for women with children younger than 12 years of age, with the percentage of women who worked flexible hours falling 3.5 per cent to 40.4 per cent between 2000 and 2003.

Ms McPhee said businesses needed to focus on outcomes rather than hours.

“It is disappointing that, in the modern workplace, hours served and days served is the requirement for success as opposed to runs on the boards and outcomes.”

She also encourages business to stay “connected” with their employees who take maternity leave.

“Those organisations that have connection programs in place say that the return to work rate is more successful for both the organisation and the individual,” Ms McPhee said.

She said some organisations allowed women to stay connected to the intranet, offered online training programs, created networking opportunities and allowed them to apply for positions while they are on leave.


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