There has been a significant drop in number of female CEOs at some of the largest enterprises.

By Emily Pidgeon


Posted on September 10, 2019

Gender equality has taken a backward turn as the number of women in executive roles in Australia has slipped to 6% in the past year.

Only two out of 25 newly appointed CEOs at some of the country’s largest companies are females, the CEW ASX200 Senior Executive Census 2019 by Chief Executive Women revealed.

The annual study found women make up just 25% of executive leadership teams across the ASX200, up 2% from 2018.

“With few exceptions, progress towards gender balance at the executive level is slow, and at the very top it has gone backwards,” CEW President Sue Morphet says. “Twelve CEO roles are held by women across the ASX200, down 14 in 2018.

“And of the 25 new CEOs appointed over the past year, only two were women, and 23 were men.”

Shemara Wikramanayake, Macquarie Group CEO, and Jolie Hodson, Spark New Zealand CEO, are the only newly appointed female corporate leaders for 2019.

CEW, which represents 560 the most senior professional women in Australia, conducted the annual census and found companies with a female CEO were more likely to have women in line roles with greater gender balance compared to businesses with a male CEO.

The results also showed 114 companies in the ASX200 have no females in executive leadership team line roles while 17 of those companies have no women in their executive leadership teams.

“The reality is that women are still underrepresented in line roles, which are a critical pathway to the CEO position,” Bain & Company partner Chio Verastegui says. “Although it is encouraging to see a steady increase in the overall number of women represented on ASX200 leadership teams, only 8% of newly appointed CEOs were women, down from 17% in 2018.”

Despite the small number of female CEOs, the amount of progress at a CFO level has almost doubled since the census began in 2017.

“Improving gender balance at all levels of leadership will require companies to consider giving women in functional roles, like human resources or legal, the opportunities to gain line management experience.

“Without this experience, opportunities for women to progress to the CEO position will remain limited.”

The new study comes days after L’Oreal’s only female CEO stepped down from the company. Jamie Kern Lima announced her resignation from IT Cosmetics, a company which she founded in 2008 and was later bought by L’Oreal in August 2016 for US$1.2 billion.

Kern Lima may have been the only female CEO at the French beauty empire, but 66% of L’Oreal’s brands are led by women, according to Forbes.