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Under Representation of Women in Positions of Power

By Lara Proctor

We’ve got the women at the bottom but where are the women up the top?

It’s taken us a long time to come this far. It’s taken many protests for the right to vote, a generation of feminists to get women into universities, and up to four waves of feminism for us to start talking about equal pay for equal work. It took the sweat, blood and tears of every woman before us so we can enjoy the privilege we enjoy today. The gender equality movement has been fragile in parts and unwaveringly confident in others.

We've had women putting in a lot of work to break into male dominated industries. Women are now found in business, technology, science, engineering, and politics - all traditionally male sectors. As a young female it makes me happy to know that in Australia I can go into any industry and I probably won't be the only female in the room.

If you look at the statistics, you’ll find that many women are entering into the aforementioned industries, at the bottom of course - where everyone starts. But then the statistics become grim. If you look at senior positions in companies and politics almost all of them are held by men. In fact, as you progress up the business and political chain, less and less women are present. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency Australia only 17.1% of CEOs are female and women only hold 30% of key management positions, most of which are considered ‘support’ roles rather than hard-hitting, decision making positions.

Infographics by Women Vote

Why is this? Surely with all the steps we have taken to ensure gender equality in Australia, the percentage of women in positions of power should be much higher?

If we don’t have women at the top of our society, making some of the important decisions, then how are we going to have gender equality on every level of society? We need women from the bottom all the way to the top in our most senior positions. How are policies that support and encourage women supposed to occur without the women there to shape them?

Strangely enough, most studies show this under representation isn’t always due to blatant sexism. This lack of women in power positions is due to intangible cultural dynamics. In more frank terms, there are ideas embedded in institutions and people which dictate the culture of women and men in power and in the workplace. Forgotten and intangible cultural dynamics women face include; women simply not being interested because senior roles are not positions they have formerly considered and enforced gender norms which see women as too weak or not assertive enough (although these norms are currently being challenged and broken down). These cultural dynamics are ingrained misogyny in our societies. For women to come to power these stereotypes must be challenged, and changed. We must recognise it within ourselves and others.

The under representation of women in positions of power isn’t all doom and gloom. In 2019, for the first time in history Australia’s highest paid CEO was a woman. Shemara Wikramanayake is the CEO of the Macquarie Group and earns around $18 million a year. Australia can also proudly say that we have had a female Prime Minister with Julia Gillard serving from 2010 to 2013. Except whilst many use that as a point of power, they conveniently forget the abuse she suffered daily during her three years as prime minister because she was a woman. The verbal insults she suffered ranged from seniors politicians chiding her for being 'deliberately barren,’ to online abusive hate, to opposition leaders posing for photos beside signs saying “Ditch The Witch.” and other signs saying “Bob Brown’s Bitch.”

Julia Gillard signing the GPE Wall @Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen - May 2016. Photo: GPE/Sarah Beeching CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2016 Julia Gillard delivered a speech in keynote address at an event in memory of Jo Cox:

She addressed what it means to be a woman in power in public life.“Threats of violence have become more prevalent for women in public life. Once upon a time, to criticise a public figure, you generally had to put your name to that criticism ....(These threats of violence) can take the form of detailed death threats, or threats of violence against family, friends and staff. And of course, as a woman in public life, the violent threats take on another sickening dimension. Threats of violent abuse, of rape, are far too common. A woman in public view may expect to receive them almost daily."

However, women in positions of power should not be treated like this. Julia Gillard should have never been verbally abused the way she was. Respect must be given to women in positions of power. We need to break the misogynist abuse and disrespect that pervades women leaders in power.

Australia, whilst generally considered as a model of gender equality, in reality has a lot further to go: In 2019 it was ranked 50th in the world for gender diversity in parliament as found by the Inter-Parliamentary union and in 2018 only ranked 35th in the World Economic Forum's gender gap analysis. However, we can look to other countries as examples:

Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin by Laura Kotila, valtioneuvoston kanslia / CC BY (https-//

Finland has long been seen as an example of gender equality, long being a country that promotes family life, paid leave for both parents and a government with nearly all females in leading positions of power: Sanna Marin, who was elected by her party on Sunday, in December 2019. will be the world’s youngest prime minister at 34. She will lead a coalition government with five women in top spots, four of whom are under 35. Further women occupy 47% seats of parliament in 2019 the world economic forum finds. Whilst Finland also has its own problems when it comes to gender equality, Australia can look at them as an example where not only are women in positions of power, they have worked incredibly hard to change the way society perceives women in power.

When we look at how far the gender parity fight has come, I have no doubt that one day we will have even more female CEOs and more female Prime Ministers. I think that our generation has the ability to permanently balance the playing field.

In the future I know that gender equality in positions of power will help to form a world in which both genders are represented and that females will feel empowered to do anything they wish to do, without the hindrance of society's preconceived views and actions. While society is making important advancements to this future, solutions to these issues can be found within ourselves. . Everyday actions and the challenging of old ideas of gender will bring about change in Australia and societies around the world. Change starts within our very own homes, amongst friends in schools and in communities. Together we can break down the stereotypes about women being in power.

Women can lead just as well as men. Women are strong fierce capable leaders. If we ever want to see a better world there must be equal representation of women in all positions of power across society.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard’s 2012 'misogyny speech' has been voted the most unforgettable moment of Australian TV history by The Guardian readers.

* Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

**The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.


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