Department of Family and Community Services

Leadership and representation

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Women’s representation in leadership roles in parliament, within the public service and in the community and corporate sectors are the topics explored in this chapter. Women’s leadership in the professions of law and education are also covered.

There is much debate and little consensus about the benefits that women leaders can bring to organisations, including whether particular benefits can be attributed to gender at all.

Some research suggests that company boards with a higher proportion of women are more likely to perform better financially,1 while other studies question this correlation, pointing out that there is not necessarily a causal relationship between female board members and company performance.2 This latter research does suggest, however, that women are more likely to attend board meetings than men and that men are more likely to attend when there are more women on the board.3

In spite of the debate around the impact of women leaders, and their under-representation, arguably the NSW economy and key institutions are more likely to perform optimally if leadership is meritorious and diverse, and if organisations make full use of the talents of all, regardless of sex.

Internationally, it is considered that political leadership by women is a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality and genuine democracy and that it facilitates women’s direct engagement in public decision-making.4

The same can be said of women’s leadership in the community, corporate and government sectors and across all social institutions. More women should be in positions where they have the authority to decide and negotiate on issues that affect them.

The position of key international organisations such as the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is also relevant here: supporting women leaders at all levels is a key area where increased investment can have ‘catalytic and multiplier affects’ for future generations, leading to improved outcomes in health, education and economic security. This chapter’s focus topic on Aboriginal women leaders is of particular interest in light of this statement.


1 McKinsey and Co (2007) Women Matter: Gender diversity, a corporate performance driver at www.mckinsey. com. See also McKinsey and Co (2012) Women Matter: Making the breakthrough.

2 R. Adams (2012) Sorry, but there’s no business case for gender quotas, Knowledge Today, Australian School of Business, University of NSW, 31 August 2012, www.blogs.unsw.edu.au/ knowledgetoday

3 Ibid.

4 See www.unifem.org/gender_issues/ democratic_governance/