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The best practices for increasing women’s representation in leadership roles

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Women are graduating from university in record numbers and in greater numbers than men. Yet the representation of women falls by approximately 10 percentage points at each successive step on the management ladder.

Managers, union representatives and policymakers often describe flexibility in a workplace as the key to ensuring that women reach the top of organisations, so we have investigated the long-term impact of the flexibility practices adopted by more than 600 Australian organisations.

Researchers from UniSA’s Centre for Workplace Excellence (CWeX) found that the representation of women in management roles in organisations investing in flexibility was about 3% higher than those organisations that hadn’t made such investments. But those benefits were only realised 12 years after flexibility practices were adopted.

This made us think: what if there was a faster way to increase women’s representation in leadership roles?

This led to CWeX researchers identifying a trickle-down effect operating in a sample of 1387 ASX-listed organisations over a 10-year period. They found companies that appointed women to their corporate board experienced subsequent growth in women on the executive team. The growth was substantial and fast: a company that appointed three women to a ten-person board experienced a 16% increase in women in the executive team the following year. 

These findings demonstrate the powerful signal that organisations send to the market when they appoint women to their corporate board. These visible appointments encourage women – both inside the organisation and in the external market – to apply for leadership roles.

Current top publications associated with this project include: