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Good progress has been made towards gender equality over the last few decades. However, women are still largely underrepresented in (academic) leadership positions. Below, we provide some interesting statistics on women’s representation in industry and academia. 

Workplace and gender equality agency

The Workplace and Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) collects data from non-public sector organisations with more than 100 employees. These organisations account for more than 11,000 employers and 4 million employees [1]. In these organisations, women hold only 16.5% of CEO roles and 38.4% of management roles overall. Below, we include the WGEA’s breakdown of managerial categories by gender. Interestingly, female representation in the key management personnel (KMP) [2] category is 29.7% and 41.9% in the other manager category, suggesting women leaders are generally lower ranking than men.


Image 1. Proportion of women per managerial category [1].

The WGEA’s dataset covers 40% of employees in Australia, with women comprising 50% of the workforce composition. However, according to the dataset only 6.3% of managers are employed on a part-time basis, representing a failure of flexible working arrangements for women.


The 30% Club Australia

The 30% Club Australia was launched in May 2015 with the goal of achieving a minimum of 30% women on ASX200 boards by the end of 2018. Supported by research, they argue that women bring skills to a board that an all-male board will likely lack [5]. For example, female board members often have more sales, marketing, and consulting experience than male board members. The chairman of the 30% Club Australia, Nicola Wakefield Evans, has stated that 30% female representation is a minimum, and that the conversation about gender diversity should not stop there. Once 30% representation is achieved, the next target for companies will be 40% representation of women executives by 2022 [6].


The 50/50 by 2030 foundation


The 50/50 by 2030 foundation is another gender equality initiative that was established in 2017 by the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA) at the University of Canberra, Australia. The foundation’s aim is that by the year 2030, men and women will be equally represented in leadership and key decision making roles at all levels of government and public administration throughout Australia, and across our region [7]. In 2018, an online national survey on issues of sexism and gender equality was conducted among 2,122 Australians. They found the following [8]:

  • 88% of Australians agreed that gender equality is still a problem in Australia.

  • Both men (53%) and women (63%) reported that Australian politics was one of the worst arenas for sexism.

  • 46% of Australian men believe that gender equality measures do not take men into account.

  • 41% of Australian men believe that political correctness gives women an advantage in the workplace.

  • 29% of women believe that people in Australia are hired on merit.

These findings clearly demonstrate that, despite generally high levels of support for gender equality, there are many enduring myths that must be challenged.




Australian universities also suffer from low levels of female representation at senior levels. According to a survey by WomenCount [9], which reports on the participation of managerial women across the 40 members of Universities Australia, women are underrepresented at the Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor level (25%, 33% and 17% female, respectively). However, women hold just over half (51%) of Deputy Chancellor positions. At the board level, women are closer to achieving parity, holding 41% of board level positions.


However, universities range in their levels of female representation, with 18 of the 40 (45%) universities in this membership having less than 40% female representation on their board. Despite this, women hold 56% of academic board Chair positions. Women make up 34% of executive teams, ranging from 14% to 67% representation.

Furthermore, did you know that...?[10]

  • The average full-time weekly wage for a woman is 15.3% less than a man’s.

  • In 2015-2016, average superannuation balances for women aged 60-64 were just over half (58%) those of men.

  • The number of women on the boards of the ASX 200 listed companies has grown from 8.3% in 2009 to 26.2% in 2018.

  • In 2017, Australia was ranked 35th on a global index measuring gender equality.

  • In 2016-2017, the labour force participation rate of people aged 20-74 was 66% for women and 78% for men. Proportions of men participating in the labour force outstripped those for women in every age group from 20 years and over.

Practical tips for improving gender equality


The following steps can improve inclusion in science, as a means of improving gender equality [12]:

  1. Advocate for more women in prestigious roles

  2. Promote high-achieving women (increase their visibility as role models)

  3. Be aware of gender bias

  4. Speak up, call out gender bias

  5. Provide better support for returning to work after maternity leave

  6. Redefine success for well-being and career progression by thinking about what it means to be a successful researcher.

  7. Encourage young women to get involved in the STEM disciplines, and challenge the notion that STEM disciplines are generally “male” pursuits

Suggested links

See full reference list
Anchor 1
  1. WGEA. (2017). Australia’s gender equality scorecard. Retrieved from

  2. Key management personnel [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Accounting Dictionary. Retrieved from

  3. Khadem, N. (2018). The ‘outliers’: 23 top companies lack women in top leadership. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

  4. Chief Executive Women (2018). Senior Executive Census 2018. Retrieved from

  5. 30%Club (2016). ASX 200 Director Snapshot. Retrieved from

  6. Khadem, N. (2018). ASX 200 urged to hit 40% target for women on boards by 2022. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

  7. 50/50 by 2030foundation (n.d.). About. Retrieved from

  8. 50/50 by 2030foundation (n.d.). Gender Equality Attitudes. From girls to men: Social attitudes to gender equality in Australia. Retrieved from:

  9. Jarboe, N. (2017). WomenCount Australian Universities 2016. London: WomenCount.

  10. Australian Human Rights Commission (2018). Face the facts: Gender equality 2018. Retrieved from

  11. Brown, R. (2017). University experiments with women-only job ads to close its gender gap. Create Digital. Retrieved from

  12. Hamylton, S., Concejo, A. V., Esteves, L., & Gallop, S. L. (2018). Gender inequalities in science won’t self-correct: it’s time for action. The Conversation. Retrieved from

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