I have indeed seen many changes during the second half of the 20th century in Australia.
In politics we now have a female Governor General, a female Prime Minister, a female Governor of NSW, a female Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW. In the recent past (say 10 years), there have also been several female State Premiers (there is one in Tasmania at the moment) and females in top positions in banks, scientific organisations and professional bodies. At present in the High Court, three out of the seven Justices are women (although women make up only 16% of the bench of the Federal courts). Moreover many churches have female Ministers (Clergy) today.
In the more visible levels of day-to-day living, I am no longer surprised, as I once was, when I see female bus drivers, taxi drivers, police officers, school principles, ministers or service people in hardware stores. My own female cousin has run my grandfather's farm alone since she was a young woman. As a family, we realise she is the best person for that job – but to an outsider it may have seemed unusual when she first started this endeavour.
However, as a young relative pointed out to me recently, they are only isolated examples. Statistics, if regarded in context, can give a more general picture of the changing role of women, and show that in many areas of leadership, women still seem to hit a 'glass ceiling' before they get to the top.
Statistics show changes in various leadership roles over time
â€¢ In politics, there are currently 28 (25%) women Members of the House of Representatives and 37 (38%) Senators in the Australian Commonwealth Parliament. The average is a little less than 30%. In the higher branches of the tree, women comprise 23% of the inner Cabinet for the Government 10% for the Opposition.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 30% is the minimum number regarded as equal participation of women; only 27 of the 90 countries surveyed have actually reached this benchmark. (www.aph.gov.au)
â€¢ In University academic appointments (teaching and research), although the percentage of women at lower levels has been around 50% for many years; there were only 23% women in the top two levels of Associate Professor and Professor in 2010. This number has risen steadily from 2000 after being at a constant value around 14% .
â€¢ There is an uneven distribution: higher in some humanities areas, and very few in some of the sciences, and hardly any women at all in engineering (although hopefully the winds of change have been demonstrated by the fantastic results of some girls in this year's NSW year 12 results in mathematics) www.smh.com.au .
â€¢ In the professions, women are also making their mark. Taking Law as an example (I have two young female relatives in that industry) in July 2010, 15% of women in Australian major corporate law firms were "equity partners". This shows a high attrition rate, because at the starting line, 61% of all law graduates in Australia are women.
Many young lawyers branch out from corporate firms to other areas involving their expertise, and I will discuss this later in the article. (humanrights.gov.au)
â€¢ The National Sports Organisations boast 22% of women directors on their various boards (although one in five organisations have none). http://humanrights.gov.au/sex_discrimination/programs/women_leadership.html
â€¢ Regarding the business sector in general, there are there are various reports based on different survey techniques giving figures for women board members. The most oft-cited figure I have found is around 8%, lower than any of the other areas discussed here, and more than 50% of companies have no women on their boards whatsoever.
International comparisons and comments on 'nature' and 'nurture'
In the corporate sector, Australians are 'approximately on the level' (within 2%) with countries like Canada, New Zealand, Thailand and China; well above many developing nations and some countries such as Japan and Chile (only about 1%); but below the USA and UK which register 15-16% of women on corporate boards. But all these countries are way behind Scandinavia, with Norway having put in huge social efforts resulting in women comprising 40% of board members.
In different countries, and in different times in the same company, corporate board membership varies from less than 1% women to over 40%. This is the best indication that it is the conditions within each society that are important in mentoring the top-performing women, who, given encouragement and opportunity to reach their own intellectual potential, are shown by these statistics as being as capable as the top-performing men.
Women running their own businesses
But there is another group of people – men and women – at the top of the tree who reject corporate or institutional workplaces. Those who run their own businesses.
In the US, the 'Fortune 500' women account for 15% of self-made high earners who run their own businesses. It seems that entrepreneurial women forging their own destinies in the business world do far better than those who wait upon the system to lift them to the dizzy heights of recognition. (www.forbes.com)
The Law in Australia and England also provides various ways in which a young person can forge a career. If they stick to the face-to-face provision of services (usually in their own area of expertise), rather than staying with a firm of solicitors (large or small or medium-sized), they can develop their own private clientele, or they can become barristers and defend cases in court. Barristers are essentially their own one-person business, such as dramatised with the legendary fictional figures of 'Rumpole of the Bailey' in Britain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumpole_of_the_Bailey and Australia's 'Rake' (en.wikipedia.org).
I am amused, however, to note that these may be considered irrelevant examples in this article about female leaders. The fictional protagonists in these show are (1) male; (2) on the seedy side of society and (3) never make it to the leadership position known as a 'silk' – in the UK it is Queen's Counsesl (QC) and in Australia it is now called Senior Counsel (SC).
After this diversion to explain the role of barristers, I will return to the theme of women in leadership – in this case determined by those who attain 'silk' in Part 2 tomorrow.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html