Women have to use their voice, ask for that promotion or pay rise and stop expecting perfection from themselves, Ingeus Limited, Managing Director, Thérèse Rein, has told a CEDA audience in Melbourne.
Speaking as part of CEDA's Women in Leadership Series she said: "We have to be proud of what we do. We have to use our voice and we have to ask," she said.
Ms Rein said a senior executive male colleague who, has been in business for 30 years, had never been approached by a female employee to ask for a pay rise or initiated that conversation.
"His experience was that women undersell their experience and their capability...that men are unafraid of taking credit for what they do and unafraid about asking for a pay rise and they're unafraid of initiating a conversation about what next," she said.
"I see women holding themselves back ... and expecting perfection, and we have to stop it."
Deloitte, Managing Partner Victoria, Geoff Roberts, said: "I think for leaders we have to look for that too. If females haven't put their hand up, we need to say, why aren't you putting yourself forward?"
A McKinsey report found "70 per cent of women rate their performance as equivalent to peers, 70 per cent of men rate theirs better than their peers," he said.
"Generally what I have seen, and what I saw at AXA, was that if some males could do five out of 10 tasks for the role, they'd say 'no problem, I'm up for it', whereas some females could do eight out of the 10 and they said 'no, I'm not ready for that'."
On work life balance Ms Rein said: "I think I had no awareness of a glass ceiling. I had parents who always thought I could do anything I wanted to."
"Being able to forgive myself for not being super mum, for not being able to produce the gourmet meal" was very enabling, she said.
Providing an example of a model that has improved female participation in the workforce, Ms Rein said in Sweden women's participation in the workforce is very high and that usually both men and women will successively take a year off when a child is born.
"What that means is that both men and women experience careerus interuptus," she said.
In Sweden "organisations are all geared to keeping people linked to that workplace to giving them advise of what's happening,... taking opportunities of training, and reintegrating people into the workplace. And it clearly works to increase women's participation," she said.
Mr Roberts said the business case for "fishing in the wider talent pool" and increasing female participation in the workforce was evident and should bring about diversity of thought in business.
"Diversity of thought is a competitive advantage, it leads to innovation and risk mitigation if you get it right, but only diversity plus inclusion leads to better business outcomes," he said.
Mr Roberts spoke about initiatives Deloitte is implementing to increase the recruitment and retention of women which include: