Australian firms lagging on gender equality: data

Australian firms lagging on gender equality: data

SYDNEY - Two-thirds of Australia's top 500 companies had no female executives and less than 10 per cent of directors were women, according to data Tuesday, which comes on the back of a sexism row in politics.

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) called for Australia to introduce female quotas in the boardroom after finding women accounted for just 9.2 per cent of executives in the country's top 500 firms.

Just 12 of the companies had a female CEO, the government's biennial EOWA study found, in the wake of a blistering speech by Prime Minister Julia Gillard who accused her conservative opponent Tony Abbott of sexism and misogyny.

EOWA director Helen Conway said without a quota system and a concerted effort "it will take decades before women achieve any meaningful representation".

She said there had been "negligible" improvement in the data in the past decade despite Australia electing its first female prime minister and a number of female state premiers.

The latest data, she said, put Australia ahead of New Zealand and Britain on gender equality terms, but behind South Africa, the United States and Canada. "Frankly you'd expect to see more progress," said Conway.

"Companies have failed to develop and maintain a strong pipeline of female talent, and you can see this in the negligible growth in female executive management."

The status of women has been a hot topic in Australia after Gillard blasted Abbott over his "sexist" remarks and footage of her speech went viral online worldwide.

World leaders including French President Francois Hollande and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark's first female leader, congratulated Gillard at recent summits on the speech, which gave her a boost in opinion polls.

Gillard told Abbott she had been offended by many of his remarks over the years and she would not be "lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man".

"I've had enough, Australian women have had enough. When I see sexism and misogyny I'm going to call them for what they are," she said.

Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who recently reviewed the treatment of women in the nation's military, echoed Conway's calls for senior management targets for women.

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