The time for a national gender plan on equality is now


Progress on gender balance in executive leadership in corporate Australia is going backwards.
Group portrait of businesswomen in creative office
Australia has a proud history of investing in female education but as a nation we are not reaping the rewards. | Image source: Getty Images

That’s according to the 2022 Chief Executive Women (CEW) Senior Executive Census.

CEW President Sam Mostyn AO has issued an urgent wakeup call, warning that CEO gender balance is still 100 years away.

The census also emphasised that 40:40:20 gender balance in line management executive roles, from which CEOs are typically drawn, will not happen until 2054.

There is an overwhelming body of evidence that continues to demonstrate the significant economic benefits of gender balanced leadership with the greatest impact derived from increasing the proportion of women in line executive roles, since this is where the bulk of organisational strategic and operational decisions are made.

At the recent Jobs and Skills Summit to address the critical job shortages across the economy, “women” were mentioned no less than 10 times in the Summit Outcomes Report, however, much of it was simply calling out women as a subgroup within broader initiatives, and the report failed to outline specific programs that would address the issues raised in the CEW census.

Yet, right on our doorstep there may be a simple solution we are overlooking. That is, the existing skilled women who make up nearly 50% of our workforce but who are currently significantly under-utilised.

Australia has a proud history of investing in female education but as a nation we are not reaping the rewards.

Women have outstripped men in their educational achievements for over 30 years, with Australia holding the world record in women’s education for the last 10. Yet Australia’s female full-time employment rate is reported to be the third lowest in the OECD. PwC estimated that increasing female workforce participation to that of Sweden has the potential to add $175 billion to our economy.

Research shows the economic arguments are clear. In addition to the massive economic potential that could be unlocked by increasing Australian women’s workforce participation, PwC estimated that closing the gender pay gap could add $60B to GDP.

“In this economic environment, it is vital that we enable women’s participation and leadership, one of Australia’s most available resources” Mostyn said, adding “The Census tells us that incremental change is not good enough.”

CEW provided a list of recommendations for business, investors and government, which mainly centre around setting and monitoring gender balance targets, an approach that led to a huge increase in the representation of women on boards – up from 9% in the years preceding the introduction of ASX governance and board diversity reporting requirements in 2010, to 35 per cent in 2022.

However, gender inequality is a complex issue that will require more than one single answer and a National Plan for Gender Equality is needed to enable us to collectively and holistically address gender equality for economic gain. A National Plan would centre around the key policy areas that provide the most compelling economic case:

  • Closing the gender pay discrimination gap
  • Supporting women to participate more fully in our labour market
  • Implementing Vision 40:40 leadership targets
  • Ensuring gender balance in politics

It’s time to start going somewhere, fast. By committing to a National Plan for gender equality, together we can build a stronger and more sustainable future and advance Australia fairly.

Dr Kathryn Evans is the Australian Managing Director of a multinational biotechnology company. Dr Kathryn Evans has written Advance Australia Fairly . Find out more at