Where are the Australian equivalents of Carly Fiorina, the CEO of Hewlett Packard, or Theresa Gattung, the CEO of Telecom New Zealand? Crikey wonder all the home grown power women are and why aren’t they flourishing in top jobs like their foreign counterparts?

We carried an item recently criticising Fortune magazine for including Myer chief Dawn Robertson in the list of 50 power women on the rise when she’s just delivered an ordinary set of numbers in the recent half year.

However, it has since dawned (sorry) on Crikey that home grown Australian women just aren’t cutting it in business much these days. Fortune certainly wasn’t able to come up with an Australian women who fitted their criteria for a global power list and the next most likely entry would probably be St George Bank CEO Gail Kelly, but she’s a South African.

Yes, Margaret Jackson and Gillian Broadbent (RBA, Seven Network, are clearly influential, but they are professional non-executive directors, not CEOs running businesses.

Even some of the top professional female directors hail from overseas. Look no further than Australia Post chairman Linda Nicholls who cherishes her Harvard MBA and American background. The same goes for Qantas and Wesfarmers director Patricia Cross. She’s another American.

Does this raise an issue for John Howard’s Australia as we all like to think we’re enlightened when it comes to the glass ceiling. There is no Australian equivalent of Carly Fiorina, the CEO of Hewlett Packard. There is also no Australian equivalent of Theresa Gattung, the CEO of Telecom New Zealand.

The most successful home grown female CEO in Australia is probably Catherine Livingstone, the woman who headed ear implant company Cochlear for six years until 2000, but she’s now on the non-executive directors’ circuit as well.

Therefore, the challenge is on. Why can’t Australia produce more power women in business? Is there still a patriarchal legacy? After all, our former biggest company News Corp has no female directors and a bloke at the top who only likes to promote his sons, not his daughters.

Check out Crikey’s list of the 23 most powerful female directors in Australia here.

Where are the corporate power women?

We’ve had a few suggestions of successful home grown executives in Australia but the pickings remains relatively thin. Here are a few examples:

Jenny Fagg – sister of Kathryn Fagg and Managing Director of ANZ Credit Cards (which is merchant services and unsecured lending). Before joining ANZ, she worked at KPMG where she developed a retail risk management practice.

Kathryn Fagg – responsible for BlueScope Steel’s overall marketing and sales capability. Before joining the Company in 2000, Ms Fagg held a number of senior positions with ANZ. Her previous experience was with McKinsey &Co as an associate, and with Esso Australia
Limited as a petroleum engineer. Ms Fagg is Chairperson of Parks Victoria.

Naomi Milgrom – owner and MD of the Sussan Group (Sussan, Sportsgirl, etc). It is a private company, however, Milgrom is a stellar figure in Australian business (and one of the legendary Besen retailing family).

Sue Morphet – the Group General Manager of Bonds and the Berlei Group (part of the Pacific Group).

Michelle Nugan – Managing Director of the Nugan Group and head of Cookathama Wines. She was also Telstra business woman of the year on 1996. Michelle is apparently grooming her daughter Tiffany to take over.

Elizabeth Proust – currently the CEO of Esanda, a wholly owned subsidiary of ANZ Banking Group, with its own board, etc. Described as astute and influential. Prior roles for Ms Proust include head of Premier & Cabinet in the Kennett regime and CEO of the City of Melbourne.

Ann Sherry – is CEO Westpac New Zealand and a former CEO of the Bank of Melbourne. She is also a former head of the federal Office of the Status of Women and a former chairwoman of the Australian Council of Businesswomen.

Reader feedback:

The falling numbers of females in finance

I think we (Australia) have a real cultural problem that extends deeper than described. I was formerly CEO of the Finance and Treasury Association. Annually a survey of treasury is done with Ernst and Young. Reading an extract of the result last night in CFO magazine, I was appalled to discover the number of females working in treasury has gone down. If you just flick through the latest edition, you won’t see females as CFOs of major companies either. Certainly with women having children at an older age, if they have financial skills, they sometimes decide to turn their back on the long hours of the corporate world and pick up positions at a younger age than their male counterparts.

Marilyn Forde

The patriarchal private sector

Just a quick thought: you’re limiting yourself to the patriarchal private sector? If not, I would have thought that Sue Vardon, recently resigned head of Centrelink, would be a walk-up start, given that Centrelink’s a decent sized business. In fact, I’d suggest that running Centrelink would be a more demanding position than coffee-and-sandwiching your way through a few directorships.

Whilst I agree that at the top it is way too much of a boys club, I am not sure about the made in oz factor that Crikey is taking with this debate. Gail Kelly might have been born a SAFFA but I think she identifies herself as an Australian. She has certainly been in oz long enough to not be treating a stint here as just a rung in the career ladder.

By all means have the “Home Made” debate but if so you should also be looking at the numbers of non home made men (are there more or less on the boards than years ago). Such dinky di guys like Chip good Year, John Stewart, some how I don’t think they will still be down under in 10 years time.


Will women ever get into the boys’ club?

I think there are two things at play here:

First: corporate Australia appears to believe that people who have worked overseas are automatically better than their counterparts who have chosen to pursue a career in Australia. I have had a number of experiences where (older male) managers have cited the fact that a person has lived and worked in London as self evident that they are a superior choice to any other candidate.

Secondly: sexism is alive and well in Australian industry. All this stuff about women not standing for the long hours and quitting work is crap. Most of my female colleagues will quit work because they’re sick of being excluded from the boys club, it stresses them out and they conclude that no matter how smart they are they can’t change the environment they work in. As a member of the finance industry I believe this is the deep cultural problem that Marilyn Forde is referring to.

The exclusion is so subtle that most men would deny they do it. My observation is that most exclusionary behavior centers around the playing of and talking about sport. Ever noticed how a woman is ignored if she dares to venture an opinion on the weekend’s football game? I’ve never had a guy look at me as if to say “you’re just a chick what do you know”, but the response is just no response. It’s as though one doesn’t exist.

Because the talking about sport is such an integral part of men bonding with other men they don’t know all that well I believe the exclusion from this integral part of business life means its hard for women to garner a rapport with men and hence their respect.

Finally: a number of women have reached senior roles in all types of industry, but I’d like to make the observation that more often than not they tend to be in “softer” support roles like law and HR. The currency amongst senior male executives is whether a person is capable of running a business, of being a ‘line manager’. Line managers have to be promoted through operating businesses…and to do that they have to get on with their male bosses. Until we see more women running these kinds of divisions within companies it’s unlikely we’ll see more women right at the top.


Are the change drivers setting up on their own?

I read your column with interest because five years ago I scoffed at the thought of any sort of glass ceiling, thinking that it was entirely up to the individual to make any sort of difference in business. I have two thoughts (actually I have many more thoughts but this is the best I can do at 6.00am).

I don’t think we are going to see any huge change in the make up of the executive suite, at any great pace. I used to think that it was women in their forties and fifties that had the exec career and then became “consultants”. But I think that change is happening for women much earlier in their careers and that those that should drive the change in management make up, are getting frustrated earlier (….plus there’s a terrible lack of support for women who have babies and want to return to careers, but that’s a well canvassed issue).

I’m in my thirties and have moved to work for myself. I looked around where I work and did not want to wait another five years before having any real challenge or responsibility in my role. I have two other female friends with the same background who have successfully made the transition a couple of years ago. I know of a couple of others looking to do so. I moved because my friends did it successfully and I’m hoping I’ll provide some inspiration for others.

I never actually really believed that I couldn’t do anything and maybe the legacy of our mothers in the seventies is that women are stroppier/more assertive and making the shift earlier in their careers. Before I made the move I looked around at the culture of my workplace and decided that it was still way too blokey and that my style of thinking and operating wasn’t really going to take me on an upward career path. I know many others who think the same way. And the numbers are in the boom in the home based businesses.

My other thought is this. We all read the terrible statistics in Australia about the number of women in senior management and the shock waves last for a day or so. In my more cranky moments I thought it would be a good idea to out companies by doing a phone directory test. That is, get people to count up the number of women in total in a company and then work out the proportion in operational/supervisory/middle management/senior management roles. It’s an easy thing to do, just open up the directory in an office.

Crikey has lots of lists, maybe they could pick that up. Get people to send in their statistics. Name companies. I contemplated it for a few wild and crazy moments, but then I have a business to set up!

Thanks for reading this and regards,


Why do women get lumped with the “soft” jobs?

I have worked both in engineering and IT environments and I couldn’t agree more with the statement that:

“sexism is alive and well in Australian industry. All this stuff about women not standing for the long hours and quitting work is crap. Most of my female colleagues will quit work because they’re sick of being excluded from the boys club, it stresses them out and they conclude that no matter how smart they are they can’t change the environment they work in.”

All the programs encouraging women to enter technical fields will make little difference for once women enter the workforce they find that men:

(a) are into word power games,
(b) never really trust a women when it comes to the crunch,
(c) generally pass tasks over to women which amount to “housekeeping” ie sorting out the messes they make, completing details which they can’t be bothered doing, organising social affairs,
(d) exclude women by talking about sport or going to golf,
(e) still assume you are the receptionist/personal assistant.

The female retention rate in technical jobs is low. Until the work environment is changed, there is little use in encouraging women to enter these fields. Society needs to change the way males operate. My fellow engineering friends would agree with the above.

Statistics for the company I work for are:

Directors: 5 males
Engineering Staff: 10 male, 2 female
Technicians: 4 male, 1 female
Production Supervisor: 1 male
Assemblers: 2 male
Manager Operations: 1 female


Does Telstra need a female CEO?

Have thrown some numbers together for your debate on women in power from Telstra. I have pulled together the most senior positions only:

ManagerArea Male Female
Ziggy SwitkowskiCEO100
Bruce AkhurstWholesale/Media/Sensis/BigPond72
John AllertonCorporate Development60
Doug CampbellCountrywide70
David MoffatConsumer, Marketing & International45
Brian PilbeamPresident – Telstra Asia21
Ted PrettyTelstra Technology83
Michael RoccaInfrastructure Services90
Bill ScalesRegulatory Corporate and Human Relations33
John StanhopeCFO80
David ThodeyTelstra Business and Government75
TotalIncluding CEO7219

It promises to be an interesting time with the internal positioning underway to be the next CEO. The announcement came as a shock to many senior managers yesterday.


Male:Female statistics

I write in response to the recent item in Crikey seeking statistics on male to female ratios in various organisations.

On the face of it, the organisation from which I just resigned is quite progressive. It has a female Chair (but otherwise all-male Board), male CEO, three female GMs and three male GMs.

Does that make it progressive? Decide for yourself.

I write this as someone who has on a number of occasions been told by my GM things such as:

  1. “Well, I’m a man and she’s a woman. When it comes down to it, I will win”. (Directed at one of the female GMs)
  2. “They are vile women. They’re bitter and twisted women who chose to have a career instead of children. That is the kind of person we are dealing with”. (Directed at two of the female GMs)

The latter comment is particularly unpleasant. First, it is simply insulting to speak of one’s colleagues in that way. Second, it is extremely sexist. Third, it was a clear indication to me – a 39 year old with no children – of his opinion of me. Fourth, it makes unnecessary judgments about the decisions people make. Maybe these women did indeed decide to have a career over children, or maybe they weren’t in the position to decide. Either way, it is a personal matter and not for others to judge. Fifth, legislation is in place to prevent this situation: it is illegal.

The general management style of this man can be exemplified by the following statements.

  1. You don’t think, you don’t have opinions, you don’t make decisions. You DO AS I SAY.
  2. Everyone’s replaceable, and don’t you forget it.
  3. If I’m going to let you go to lunch I want to know what the outcomes are for ME! (I thought there was legislation in place guaranteeing me the right to have a lunch break? I usually work through lunch, so it was unusual for me to be out, but it was not in contravention of my right to have a lunch break that achieves personal outcomes of being fed and happy.)

This is 1950s-style or worse. I didn’t do several degrees and work my butt off to work for a sexist pig who is terrified his mediocrity will be recognised.

It would be interesting to know more than the statistics – statistics can be just like KPIs, ticks in boxes that don’t necessarily reveal what lies beneath. Perhaps you should ask for stories about what the statistics DON’T reveal?

Ignore commentary that says “the pendulum has swung too far”, and that women get it too easy. There is much still to be done, and it doesn’t make someone the “PC police” if they recognise it.

Populate, and your career will perish

Where do I start? Except to say that nearly ten years of a Federal Liberal Government means that women, and men, at every level in society, are reminded that women’s place is in the home.

That’s almost my whole career, but I do remember the days (under Federal Labor) when women’s participation in the labour force was regarded as a serious social, political and business issue. These days it’s career death to even bring the topic up, let alone suggest that systemic problems require systemic fixes that time alone won’t provide. We all know what the systemic issues are (subtle discrimination, work/life/balance, decent affordable childcare, how work is valued etc). But as a now socially conservative country, those in power don’t have much interest in addressing these fundamental, and thirty-year old, issues.

I voted with my feet. When I decided the time was right to become a mother I started my own business. It’s certainly harder work than a corporate job. But it is also far more challenging as a business person, more rewarding, more meritocratic and more flexible. I can choose to make work fit around my family, rather than making my family fit around work.

Unfortunately the message for young women in business is very clear these days – populate, and your career will perish.


A man’s point of view

Without wishing to denigrate any of your contributors, I can’t agree that there is a general male conspiracy to exclude females even if they want to and have the capacity to work long hours, and that bonding issues like sports talk amounts to anything much at all.

The fact that a couple of your contributors have expressed that idea doesn’t deny that they have felt that way. With 20 plus years of Human Resources experience I just don’t believe it is the general condition, or explains the phenomenon at its source. It is a nice theory but I suspect it represents a tiny fraction of the reality.

What women don’t seem to accept is that men discriminate against other men constantly for reasons as silly as any reason for discriminating against women. Individual men are discriminated against because they didn’t go to the right school (witness, the vast majority of the Melbourne boys club, virtually any senior judicial group etc), because they have different political points of view, because they support different sporting teams, because of the university they attended (this is a big one in many professions) because they have a certain European heritage, because they are too young and because they are too old.

It’s not a conspiracy, it’s called human nature, and women are not the only victims. Just about everyone suffers. Executives are human beings, and as much as the management jargon encourages executives to gather round them a team of people with varied and diverse ideas and talents, the fact is that the vast majority will only mentor or support or even employ people who think, act and work similarly to themselves. That obviously excludes a lot of women who may give their family priority over work, or even equal priority. It might exclude women because they aren’t men. It also happens in female dominated work ‘enclaves’ where the lack of variety of thought, approach and style is even more remarkable. I think the female dominated professions that I have worked with closely display every bit of the same discriminatory patterns that the male dominated professions display.

I’m unlikely to progress much higher up the corporate ladder due to lack of desire to work the hours necessary. I have made the decision that my family should have a father that actually is involved with the kids. That is my decision, and people of dubious capacity, less experience and minimal brain function are regularly promoted over the top of astute and experienced people who aren’t willing or capable of working 60 hours a week.

That is the price I pay for making that decision. I can live with that. It isn’t fair, but it is reality.

Whatever else you want to say, the corporate world rewards employees more on the basis of your capacity to work long (unpaid) hours than any other factor. The second most important is to be non-threatening to the manager, ie. don’t have too many ideas, or have a great ability to make your boss think they were his. Experience, qualifications, intellect etc, (what I would call ‘merit’) runs a distant third in the recruitment stakes.

Discrimination happens everywhere all the time. It is a personally liberating and empowering thought to give up on the idea that the workplace should be fair and equitable. It isn’t now and it hasn’t been in the past.

Get over it. If your current employer is a discriminating bastard there is no stronger statement that you can make then to leave. Better still, leave and get a better job elsewhere and send them a thank you note for being a great example of how not to treat an employee. The bastards won’t change their behaviour until their business goes under because all the good workers have gone to good employers.

Best of luck to everyone in their search for career fulfilment. It eludes me.

Andrew Lewis

Reaching the holy grail of partnership

While it in no way impacts on a woman’s ability to hold a powerful job, it is still significant whether or not Australia’s power women have managed to fit a family into their lives. One only has to look as far as the legal profession where women are pouring out of law schools in record numbers but remain ridiculously unrepresented at partnership level.

Even if a firm allows for part-time partners – and there would not be many who do – just a few short years out of a career to be a mother followed by a few more on a part-time basis can have a devastating impact on reaching the holy grail of partnership. Add to this a couple of kids in succession and you’re looking at a long time in the wilderness. And this doesn’t even take into account the impact that long working hours can have on motherhood.

Translate this scenario to other professions, across the public and private sectors, and you’ll find a mass of women who have opted out of a fast-track career in preference for a “balanced” work-family role staring back at you.

Take a long look at your own workplace and you’ll find the people bitching about having to reschedule meetings around a working mother’s childcare arrangements are almost exclusively people who have a full-time wife at home.

And for anyone who claims this is a phenomenon of the Howard Government, I have been in the workplace for a long time and I can assure you, it wasn’t any better under the Hawke-Keating government.

Sarah Bathrobe

Women in Government

Glass ceilings are alive and well in Government. I am a female senior manager in the public sector and can attest to the fact that men bully, belittle and sideswipe at the highest levels of government.

Looking around other corporate cultures, I have found there is a lot of senior management with a 1950s blokes’ mentality.

I think that women are treated appallingly in my own organisation – trodden on, humiliated, made to feel insignificant (particularly if you’re clever) and bulldozed into decisions they don’t agree with. Adjectives such as stupid, witless, dim, controlling, dull and pedantic often spring to my mind…

This agency has only one female director who is, even then, only ‘acting’ in the absence of a male.

To all the boards and corporate executive teams of Australia, you are missing out on articulate, wise people who have raised families, cared for people, enjoyed life, treated our staff well, worked in teams and actually produced the things that your businesses need.

We are achievers. Our only crime is to have ambition.

Suzie Q

Too much complaining

Could the debate on Glass Ceilings get any more pathetic. The boys won’t let me join in the conversation on sport (well you have bored me already so I can understand the boys point of view) or they go to Golf or I left and had a couple of kids and found my career had stalled ..duh really!!

But wait it continues .. ‘people actually bitch about having to reschedule meetings around child care arrangements!!’ Gee I wonder why? Funny I must have missed the bit in my contract where my schedule has to meet your decisions on home life.

I dread to think these recent submissions are the reasons women are unrepresented in the upper echelons of the workforce because if they are then it has little to do with discrimination and lot to do with walking around with a big chip on shoulder.

Food for thought:

1. The boys don’t like talking to sport to me or they just ignore me…maybe you are boring and they just don’t like you.
2. I left to have kids and my career stalled…start your own business then leave for extended period and return I am sure it will still be running just fine with no loss in profits or knowledge.
3 If people start using the adjectives such as stupid, witless, dim, controlling, dull and pedantic around you it probably has less to do with your sex and more to do with ………….
4. Lose the chip, you only demean others who are successful

Tom Collins

Why women lack credibility in the boardroom:

Finally, how’s this for a transcript between Brisbane’s deputy lord mayor David Hinchliffe and 4BC’s afternoon hosts Peter Dick and Clare Blake. The subject is Hinchliffe’s call for blokes to get back into shorts:

CLARE BLAKE: That’s right. And you can’t have a meeting in a room without airconditioning now because you’d all faint. But I’m interested by your point, if you cut your pants off at the knees then you cut off your credibility, that you just would not, you know, show your legs and that’s incredible. ‘Cause we show our legs and we can be credible, so…

HINCHLIFFE: And that’s why women are not in positions of influence in our community.

BLAKE: Because we show our legs.

HINCHLIFFE: That’s my theory.

CRIKEY: Send your contributions to kate @crikey.com.au as this is an important debate that is too often ignored.