Fewer women run top Australian companies than men named John — or Peter, or David.

Fewer large Australian companies are run by women than are run by men named John.

Or Peter. Or David.

Consultant Conrad Liveris gathered the data on CEOs and chairs at Australia’s largest 200 companies for the third year running, and released it to coincide with International Women’s Day.

“To be a captain of Australian business you are 40 per cent more likely to be named Peter or John than to be female,” he said.

“Straight, white, able-bodied men aged 40-69 years, which represents the majority of Australian leadership, are 8.4 per cent of the population.”

Wait, are you sitting down?

The number of women in those key leadership positions actually fell in 2017.

There are only nine women CEOs and 10 women chairing boards in the ASX 200.

Mr Liveris calls this “ironic”, although that really only applies here in an Alanis Morisette kind of way.

“It seems like we discuss this topic all the time and it is amounting to even fewer women accessing these roles,” he said.

Why does this matter?

“Such a narrow pool of executive talent does a disservice to organisations, shareholders, the business community and Australia overall,” Liveris said.

Even ‘female-dominated’ industries are male-dominated

Wait, is that even possible?

Yes, turns out it is. And here’s what we mean by that.

Even in industries where a large majority of the workforce is female — think health and education — a large majority of CEOs are, wait for it, male.

For example, about three quarters of the health care and education workforces are female, but only a third of the leaders in those fields are women.

And in this case we are not just talking about Australia’s 200 biggest companies. This data is slightly older but largely comes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, so it covers the private sector for those entire industries.

This is a long chart but take a look and see if you can find any industries where women are over-represented in the CEO’s office.

Nope, we couldn’t either.

Is there any good news?

Well, that probably depends on your perspective, but if you take one step down from the CEO level, things do look a little better.


The proportion of women employed as executives is typically much closer to representing their relative numbers in the workforce.

For example, around 40 per cent of executives in the Commonwealth public service are women, relatively close to the 50 per cent level of overall staff numbers.

Mining and construction promote women to executive level at almost the same proportion as their female workforce numbers.

Marian Baird, professor of gender and employment relations at the University of Sydney Business School, said the higher proportions of women at executive level was encouraging but only if those women held critical positions.

“We know quite clearly that if you are in [human resources] or communications or public relations, which is where a lot of women are clustered at senior executive level, they are much less likely to become the CEO than if they are in finance or operations.

“They are the two that go through to the next level.”

About the data

  • Data for the first two charts is drawn from an analysis by economist Conrad Liveris, published in a report titled: To Be Meritorious, Gender Equality At Work In 2017.
  • CEO and executive numbers for each industry were taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics gender indicators for 2014-2015 and represent the private sector.
  • Industry employee numbers for 2015 were taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force data for August 2015 and represent all sectors.
  • Note that all industries, with the exception of public administration and safety, health care and assistance, education and training, and electricity, gas, water and waste services, all have more than 90 per cent of their employees working in the private sector.
  • Federal parliamentarian and minister numbers are current, and state and territory parliamentarian numbers were correct at January 2016.
  • Public service numbers were taken from the Australian Public Sector Commission APS statistics bulletin 2014-15 and are for June 2015. They do not include state and territory public servants.
  • Executives in the public service are defined as senior executive service managers.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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