Why are Australia’s CEOs predominantly male?

Why are there so few female CEOs? It’s a commonly discussed topic in the Australian business landscape, and often highlighted as an issue in society. This has been made even more evident in the inaugural Robert Half CEO Tracker, commissioned by specialised recruiter Robert Half to identify common traits amongst the leaders of the ASX 200-listed companies. The research found the top position in the workplace is still male-dominated, as the majority of ASX 200 CEOs are men (94%). Only 12 ASX 200 CEOs are women .

It’s an unfortunate fact of the current C-suite employment market, with women underrepresented in top positions – a fact that applies to not only ASX 200-listed companies. Despite this, it’s well known that diversified boardrooms with women represented across leadership positions bring enormous value to organisations and the wider business community. This is not just because of their wealth of experience and knowledge, but also because of their diverse perspective applied to business strategy that’s required for any organisation to succeed.

Whilst looking at the low percentage of female CEOs listed on the ASX200 – compared to male CEOs, within our Executive Search branch, we’re seeing a strong push for diversity from companies looking to hire at the C-suite level. Organisations are actively specifying diversity in their recruitment agendas, and not only just based on gender, but on an all-inclusive approach.

While there still is a way to go for women to be represented equally at the boardroom table, it’s encouraging to acknowledge just how far Australian women have come and actively promote steps they can take to further their careers in the business world. More can always be done to empower women within the workplace. And understanding the common professional characteristics of top Australian CEOs is a great place to start their C-suite journey.

For woman looking to hone their personal attributes, CEOs need to be clear communicators who are capable of both giving direction and accepting expert opinion. And as with all leadership positions, exceptional people skills are essential. They must be energetic, calm under pressure and ever-objective, while having the creative ideas needed to give the business an advantage over its competitors.

Naturally, it takes a very driven individual to become CEO – of any type of company. It calls for confidence, leadership and strong communication skills while being able to motivate and inspire a broad range of employees. It is a position that needs a willingness to adopt fresh ideas, embrace new technologies and responsibly explore opportunities to achieve sustainable company growth. By being assertive, forward-thinking and willing to take risks, ambitious women in the workplace can ascend the corporate ladder to the top job just as fast as their male counterparts.

Here are Robert Half’s eight tips for women to help grow their career:

1. Know what you really want. Think about what you want to achieve in your career – and why. Ask yourself some important questions: As a senior executive would you be willing to work long hours and take up extra responsibilities? Do you like to solve complex problems? Are you comfortable as a leader? And, crucially, how do your family feel about you pursuing a career as a business leader? Be sure that a senior management position is right for you.

2. Develop a career plan. Determine what you want to achieve, and work out a detailed career plan. This will be a blueprint that maps out your journey to the top of your organisation, allowing you to focus on your ultimate career goals.

3. Work continuously on your leadership skills. Developing leadership skills is an ongoing process and an essential element for women pursuing a management position. By developing your technical, managerial and social skills, you are more likely to climb the corporate ladder – and be better prepared for the challenges you face along the way.

4. Communicate (more) directly. Well-developed communication skills are essential for all managers. Yet men and women often have different communication styles. Women usually take on a more modest tone, and often tend to communicate in an assuming way (“wouldn’t it be better”, “could we perhaps”, etc.). However, for a male audience – who usually communicate in a more direct way – this style of communication can suggest you lack confidence or are unsure about the matter at hand. Aim to communicate in a more direct manner, and be prepared to boldly defend your ideas and propositions. It will encourage others (both male and female) to perceive you as a leader.

5. Take risks. Women are usually less inclined to take risks than men. Yet this is part of being a leader. If you can prove you are willing to take calculated, carefully considered risks, you’re more likely to assume a managerial position.

6. Offer to take on certain tasks, even those nobody else wants. A willingness to take on additional projects or raise your hand for tasks that others are sidestepping, can showcase your skills beyond your normal job duties. This doesn’t just strengthen your position within the company, it’s a great way to demonstrate you’re a team player, who is willing to go the extra mile for the company.

7. Do not be afraid to stand out. All great leaders stand out from the crowd. That’s something you need to be comfortable with if you aspire to a job at the top. As a manager, it’s likely you will have to make tough, and at times, unpopular decisions, so be prepared to set yourself apart from others in good times – and in bad.

8. Build your network. People like to work with people they know. So do not underestimate the possibilities offered by traditional and online networking. Building your network can be important to getting ahead.

Robert Half Executive Search specialises in the search for and placement of executive leadership talent across a broad spectrum of function areas and industry sectors.

Author Biography: I am passionate about researching, writing and reporting on trends in Australia's business landscape.

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