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Gillard smashes the glass ceiling

21st July 2010
Julia Gillard, as Australia’s first female Prime Minister, has become a beacon of hope for Australian working women that the glass ceiling can be broken and shines a spotlight onto the opportunity for HR-savvy organisations to recognise their potentially untapped resource – their aspiring and promising women.

Why is coaching women through the glass ceiling good for business?

According to a recent UK study of 12,800 leaders in 76 countries, the difficulties for women often start quite early in their careers.  A common employer oversight seems to be the limited inclusion of women in their high-potential programs.  

Beilby’s Managing Director, Barry Vienet says, “At this pivotal point, men are often selected for these high-potential programs to follow the organisation’s tradition or culture to identify and train future male executives.”

Woman can offer a competitive advantage and add value to the bottom line.  Research in  2007 and 2009 by Catalyst of Fortune 500 companies shows that those with more women in leadership on average outperform those with fewer women, across three performance measures: return on equity 53%, return on sales 42% and return on invested capital 66%.  And those with three or more women board directors do even better, across all industries.

Internationally women still remain under-represented in the composition of company boards, however, in Australia the number of women being appointed to ASX 200 boards is on the rise, jumping to 9.2 per cent - up from 8.2 per cent in 2009 (view current list ).

Many of Australia’s major companies have shown leadership in this area by taking part in the ASX 200 Chairmen’s Mentoring Program , the largest program of its type in the world, involving 56 mentors (view list here ) mentoring 63 talented women who are “ASX 200 board-ready”.  John Colvin, the chief executive of the AICD said “the program highlighted the commitment of the director community to lifting the number of women on boards”.

How can you support your emerging women leaders?

1. Helping individuals by coaching, mentoring and developing to zone in on any gaps and equip them with the skills required of a future leader such as the ability to prioritise, inspire, delegate, collaborate, grow social capital, be an agile learner, be able to cut through layers of complexity and think with a global mindset.

2. Shifting the corporate culture.  This starts at the top. Cooperation and collaboration is needed to develop corporate cultures that embrace the presence of women leaders and encourage aspiring women leaders in the organisation.

3 Creating networking opportunities is the name of the game in these fast-paced, highly networked and matrixed organisations. Creating social and business networks can increase women’s job satisfaction and build and maintain professional relationships, which women find critical to get their job done.

Where do you find good woman leaders?

Look within.  Identifying talented women early in their career allows time to put coaching and training in place.  Executive Search consultants are another good avenue.  Business Council of Australia (BCA) Chairman Graham Bradley is optimistic about the increased demand for women on boards and in senior management.  “We will see a sea change in the next few years, doubling of women on boards over next five years from current low of 9.2 per cent”, he predicted.  Bradley noted that up to 50 per cent of assignments now being given to head hunters searching for qualified company directors are specifically for women directors.

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