The female CEO and Managing Director of Alcidion, a leading provider of software solutions for high performance healthcare, and Alcidion’s female Chair, have reacted to the news that the number of female CEOs in Australia has fallen to the lowest level in four years.
Chief Executive Women President Sue Morphet said she was disappointed with the results of the census on female CEOs.
“We’ve been running it for four years now and we felt that surely we will start to get some traction and a tick up,” she told the ABC.
“Any movement in the positive direction throughout the census has shown a glacial change, but generally speaking it’s flatlined, and in the key jobs of line roles and CEOs it’s gone backwards.”
Chief Executive Women identified the lack of women in chief financial officer roles and line roles, which are positions responsible for profit and loss. It found 96% of CEO appointments were chosen from those roles.
“Unfortunately they are held by very few women in the ASX200 companies. CFOs, women hold about 16% of the positions, and in the line roles women hold about 12% of the positions,” said Morphet.
Alcidion Chair Rebecca Wilson said increasing the number of women in leadership roles is less about quotas and more about the circle of influence.
“The more we expose young women to the successful women around them, the greater influence we have on their career and their confidence to be ambitious at the highest level. The more we actively support their development, the quicker we’ll achieve parity. It’s the power of positive contagion,” said Wilson.
“Women need to learn from each other. The symbiotic nature of relationships is powerful in its ability to influence, so the more exposure that women have to each other, the greater the reciprocal benefits.
“At Alcidion, this has included a women’s leadership program and the ‘Women in Alcidion’ forum, an initiative for management to better understand how to support and professionally develop its female employees in the tech sector. IT is one of the worst performing sectors and our CEO and Managing Director Kate Quirke is a powerful case study for leading by example. We are outliers with a female chair and CEO and believe this has been one component of our success over the last few years.”
Quirke said there needs to be a level playing field from early career inception.
“One element of this is flexible working environments that support women continuing their career whilst they pursue a family. COVID-19 has helped businesses realise that this was possible all along and we need to champion maintaining this new flexible working world, and we certainly intend to do that at Alcidion,” said Quirke.
“I am a firm believer that our diverse leadership talent pool at Alcidion has contributed to the company’s strong growth and success to date. Alcidion comprises of 60% female representation on our executive management team and 33% of females on our Board, and I am committed to continuing to challenge the male dominated nature of the IT industry and executive cohort of ASX-listed companies.
Both Quirke and Wilson felt the change has to take place at school.
“A few years ago, I interviewed the girls in my daughter’s Year 2 class and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. The answers were boundaryless – a scientist, a business owner, the list goes on. When I went back two years later to do the same thing, the answers were vastly different and lacked the confidence and aspiration they previously did. It reinforced to me that girls innately identify equally with boys but are influenced by external forces that they should think of themselves differently. This manifests into the leadership inequality we see today. When we hear leaders speak up about gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace, we need to ensure behaviour matches these voices of change. Organisations, business leaders, managers, media and individuals need to not only actively champion change, but also personally enable it,” said Wilson.
Quirke said school is the starting point for change.
“We need to bring in supportive conversations that develop a new vision for girls and young women that challenge other channels of influence that limit what they think they can pursue. Girls and young women should feel empowered to realise their aspirations, just as young men and boys do,” she said.
There is also a role for men to actively back female leaders.
“As well as women supporting women, men need to champion women leaders as well. We need men who are vocal about the value of diversity in driving business growth. It cannot just be the responsibility of women,” said Quirke.
“From the research that was done on business, it did show the gender-balanced teams ran better businesses and delivered better outcomes … so shareholders should demand this.
“This is not an optional extra anymore,” added Morphet.