International Women’s Day is a timely opportunity to reflect on our country’s achievement in respect of the gender agenda on a global stage.

In many respects Australia compares favourably with other nations – we have protections from sex discrimination and growing workforce participation, but I can’t help but look around and think there is so much more we can do. Especially when it comes to the representation of women at senior levels. In political life and in the wider business and commercial world, women are underrepresented in senior positions.

The Prime Minister should lead from the front. Why not have a 50% target of women in Cabinet? As the Canadian PM replied when asked about the reasoning behind his 50/50 gender split in his Cabinet… “because it’s 2015”.

Well it’s now 2017 and if Canada can do it, why can’t we?

We have had a female Prime Minister, female Premiers and a female Governor General, but these are still the exception rather than the norm.

I truly believe the only way we will shatter the glass ceiling permanently is by setting targets and hard quotas. As a BoardLinks champion I agree with all efforts to increase female representation and believe we should have higher quotas for Boards. I strongly support the Australian Institute of Company Directors “30% by 2018” campaign and would like to see that target replicated in all Boards.

Early on in my career there were very few senior women to look up to, but it was great to see the few who had broken through. I never forget those women that inspired me when I was starting out … and I try and be that role model in return now.

Why is this important? Because gender equity in the workplace is a positive for everyone at all levels.

But it’s not just about being inspirational. It’s about having women in senior positions to make changes from the inside. It’s no accident that as the number of women MPs has increased across the globe issues like childcare, parental leave and quotas have become central issues of political discourse.

And we need policy settings to support women because we know women’s progress and pay takes a hit during the years when they are raising young children and that this compounds throughout their working life ending in lower superannuation savings. We need to have more flexible working options, better processes to bring women back into the workforce, more opportunities for development and promotion and more transparency around the gender pay gap.

While we have made much progress, I am always concerned when things regress. Hard won and long awaited paid parental leave provisions are currently under threat and the much needed injection of funds into the early childhood education and care sector have been further delayed.

On International Women’s Day let’s call on our politicians as the representatives of women and men to make gender equality a priority and ensure women are represented in Commonwealth and State Cabinets and as candidates in forthcoming elections. Only then will our democracy be truly representative.

Catherine Yeomans

Catherine Yeomans
CEO Mission Australia


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