CEOs need to commit to dealing with gender diversity in tangible ways for progress to be made Nestle Australia Ltd, Chairman, Elizabeth Proust AO told a CEDA audience in Brisbane.
To overcome gender inequality, Ms Proust said the following issues need to be addressed:
She also said that companies need to make mentors available to women.
"These issues need to be dealt with in a tangible way, the CEO must commit to diversity in all forms - without the commitment of the CEO, tangible progress cannot be made," she said.
"This is a business issue not an equity issue."
"Women constitute about 35 per cent of directors on Commonwealth Government boards however; women are only represented on eight per cent of the ASX top 200 private sector boards."
Ms Proust acknowledged that the ASX was attempting to change that figure by introducing guidelines for the number of women on boards and in senior positions. This is to be reported by organisations in their annual report each year.
Despite progress being made she highlighted, "it will be interesting to see the inventive excuses made as there is still a large number of companies with no women on their boards."
Ms Proust commented that the policy and practices in the private sector mirror the public sector, but change isn't occurring because attitudes have not changed, "in some cases, the percentage of women in senior roles in the private sector is going backwards."
From her time in the private sector, Ms Proust emphasised the dysfunctional nature of corporate organisations.
"Success is more easily achieved by women moving organisations or sectors than by staying and attempting to succeed in one organisation.
"When women do stay in the one organisation, they are usually more successful in the public sector than the private sector.
"Good policies and practices have changed attitudes in the public sector, but in some areas of the private sector, few women hold senior positions," she said.
"When mentoring women, a major occurring theme was the toxic nature of the corporate world and how uncomfortable many women feel in that world.
"Most women look to their own behaviours or skills to explain why they are struggling to fit in, it takes them a while to realise it is the culture that is the problem.
"If you stay and fight you may eventually reach a senior position and be part of the change that is needed, but usually a rational person will leave.
"This reinforces the predominate culture and is a poor business practice. It leaves the boardroom and executive team looking nothing like its customer base let alone the wider Australian community."
When asked about what companies can do to keep women, Ms Proust said establishing flexible work arrangements and providing women with role models, networking opportunities and mentoring programs would assist in providing support.
She also highlighted it's about balancing both your career and that of your partner - get as much assistance as you can afford, it pays off in the longer run in terms of salary.
Lastly, she encouraged all women to take control, "no-one is going to manage your career, you are responsible for it."