Despite the various steps taken by the Australian government and organisations to ensure greater equality in the workplace for women, it’s yet to become a reality.
ABS figures show that men are earning, on average, more than women in the workplace – $298.20 more, to be exact. Statistics from the WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency) further reiterates this gap, revealing that only 12 percent of chair and 17.3 percent of CEO positions are held by women.
Considering that the sex discrimination act came into effect in 1984, these are very poor statistics – as is the fact that the amount of senior business roles occupied by women ten years ago was the same as it is today at 22 percent.
The glass ceiling, which author Ann Morrison describes as something ‘…so subtle that it is transparent, yet so strong that it prevents women from moving up the corporate hierarchy,’ (Breaking the Glass Ceiling) is still very much there.
Yet there are women who have transcended the patriarchal system and have become some of the most powerful business people in Australia.
Here’s a look at the top five business women in Australia:
1. Gina Rinehart
Topping the list is Gina Rinehart. Mining heiress and Chairman of Hancock Prospecting Group and with an estimated net worth of $16bn, she is the richest person in Australia.
Her wealth was initially accumulated through her father, Lang Hancock, who discovered the world’s largest iron ore deposit and subsequently became one of the richest men in Australia.
However, she has proven to be far more than a passive heiress, learning the mining business from the ground up. Over 20 years she transformed the firm into ‘Australia’s largest and most successful private company group through hard work, great effort, long hours and dedication, with the assistance of only a very small executive team,’ according to Rinehart’s spokesperson Jay Newby.
She took the reins of the Roy Hill iron ore tenements in Western Australia’s Pilbara region 22 years ago, and will begin a $10bn iron operation to export to Asia by the end of the year.
Rinehart has previously commented on her dislike of being called an ‘heiress,’ due to her many accomplishments within the company. Alecia Simmonds of theage.com.au says that she can’t help ‘furrow [her] feminist brows when Rinehart is called an heiress while James Packer is called a billionaire.’
“I’m not ashamed of being a girl, and since I’m a girl I will do what a boy would have done had I been a boy”. – Gina Rinehart
2. Catherine Livingstone
She is a strong advocate for research and innovation, claiming that that the world is looking for solutions and technologies: ‘It is an area in which Australia could take a lead with enormous economic rewards, if we are able to make it our knowledge and technologies that are sought out.’ She claims in an interview for CSIRO.
Since 2009 she has been the chair of Telstra, turning the company around with CEO David Thodey, contributing to the share price of the company more than doubling during the last few years.
Livingstone is highly respected in the sector, described by Macquarie Group chairman David Clarke in The Weekend Australian as ‘a very good contributor, absolutely diligent in doing her work’ and ‘..when she’s got something to say, she says it. She doesn’t talk for the sake of it. So people really listen to what she’s saying.’
Prior to Telstra she gained her impressive reputation as Chief Executive of bionic ear icon Cochlear, and was instrumental in getting the company onto the ASX 19 years ago. In 2012 she was also deemed as the second most powerful director in Australia by site Crikey.
3. Alison Watkins
Since becoming chief executive of Coca-Cola Amatil, Alison Watkins has made many changes which have led to an improvement in the company’s declining profits. In particular she has haggled with US Coca-Cola to procure a $600m funding deal and has reshuffled senior management.
She was previously the CEO and Managing Director of GrainCorp Ltd, Australia’s largest agribusiness and a top ASX 100 company.
Speaking of her issues with self-confidence in the Financial Review, she describes how she came to land the GrainCorp job:
“I got some feedback..that showed my peers thought I had strong leadership attributes…but I rated myself much less favourably, which I took as a good thing until the excellent coach I had pointed out that it meant I was underestimating my ability to make a difference. I realised I was being undemanding in a way that meant I was not setting myself and my teams up for success, and that wasn’t good for anyone“.
Watkins took her new outlook into the interview to become CEO of GrainCorp and followed up with a letter to the Chairman outlining her key skills and credentials. Her forthrightness won her the job.
She is now a champion of women who are trying to work their way up the line in their business and feels that all women, who are in a position to do so, should enable their female co-workers.
“It’s the way you make a difference to women in your workplace; the risks you take to create opportunities for them and help them succeed, including in line roles…I will contribute to changing the perceptions of what a female leader is and to accelerating the day that will come when the term ‘female CEO’ doesn’t evoke any particular perceptions at all“.
4. Katie Page
Page joined Harvey Norman in 1983 as a young assistant to the boss. She slowly worked her way up the ranks until she was made CEO in 1999, making her one of the longest serving chief executives of an Australian-listed company.
She runs the 200+ store retail business with a turnover of more than $2.6bn a year (& franchise operations of $4.6bn) alongside her husband Gerry Harvey, who co-founded the company in 1982 with Ian Norman.
“There is no other consistent female [chief executive] out there and it just happens to be we are a husband and wife team“, she told The Australian. “Gerry is the executive chairman. The chairman is there to make sure that the big picture is right. They are there for the big decisions. As chief executive, I am running the business“.
Page is unsentimental about her husband’s higher profile – she knows the company works because they are a team, “The board sets the strategy and I deliver it as chief executive. We have skill sets as a couple that probably make us stronger as a company compared with others“.
Page has also dedicated herself to championing women in horse racing through Magic Millions, and providing a $500,000 incentive for women thoroughbred owners.
5. Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz
Since arriving at the business, with a market cap of $7bn and a top 50 ranking of ASX-listed companies, she has focused on investment. She spent $1bn buying new assets in order to restore the group’s property portfolio, but also sold off property worth $1bn.
The strategy Lloyd-Hurwitz adopted has made the most of the changing property market since the financial crash.
In 2014 she was crowned Telstra NSW Business Woman of the Year. She told The Saturday Telegraph: “Along the way, I’ve had some important mentors who have invested in me, taken a risk, held up the mirror for me and guided me. In all business relationships, I strive to listen, to create mutually beneficial outcomes and to communicate often and with clarity“.
“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. A woman must do what he can’t”. – Rhonda Hansome
There is still a long way to go for Australian businesswomen, but these five female trailblazers show that it is possible to not only succeed, but triumph, in business and make more important fractures in that tough glass ceiling.
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