Australian women CEOs speak up

A new study published by Korn Ferry and the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), Australian Women CEOs Speak, looks into the careers of female chief executive officers.

The report examines the reasons there aren’t more women in the C-suite - there are currently just 14 women in CEO roles in the ASX 200.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Forty-three per cent of the women were handed what is called a ‘hospital pass’ in their first CEO position, which is also known as the ‘glass cliff’, whereby a woman CEO will be called in to save a failing company. This hospital pass may or may not work out for the company, where it then turns into the glass cliff, where women CEOs are criticised for not being very good. This is often a woman’s first CEO role, where inexperience and a company in dire straights can result in a difficult experience.

  • Most women in CEO positions achieved that without any formal coaching, mentoring or sponsorship.

  • Female CEOs showed strong people skills and ease in unsettled situations, being agile, adaptable and willing to try new approaches as needed.

  • Many of the women studied were not drawn to power or status, and many weren’t that keen on being CEO in the first place (43 per cent) with just as many aiming for the C-suite since their early 20s. Many female CEOs are driven by a sense of purpose.

  • A third of all the female CEOs said that despite a record of success, they had periods of self doubt, and many scored themselves below benchmark for confidence and assertiveness.

  • Seventy-five per cent said their careers had periods of ‘improvisation’, with about half saying they had clear career goals.

  • Half the women CEOs interviewed had mentoring relationships, but some were informal and might have included just a single piece of memorable advice. Two women out of 21 said they’d had consistent mentoring throughout their careers.

  • Nine of the women reported being given the hospital pass, where the stakes were high.

  • Seventy per cent of the women had significant international market experience.

  • About half the CEOs had children with partners who were the primary caregiver for some or all of the time that the women had been building their career.

  • Most of the CEOs held honours or postgraduate qualifications. Nearly half had postgraduate qualifications in a business-related field.

Read the full study