Women in leadership: Next steps

The US 30% Club was launched in June 2014 with a goal of achieving 30 per cent female directors on Standard and Poor’s 100 boards by 2020: the goal was reached in March 2021 when 30.47 per cent of S&P 100 board directors were women. Now, all S&P 100 boards have at least one female director. 

“While there are now more college-educated women in the workforce than men – and women continue to be ambitious – women’s representation in leadership roles still lags and is not keeping pace,” says Phuong Trinh, a lawyer, who has worked in Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong in both private practice and as an in-house general counsel for technology and finance industries.

Phuong was recently shortlisted for the 2024 Women in Finance Asia Awards, and has had just two female bosses in her 20-year career. “Having someone sponsor you is key: giving you the opportunities you don’t feel ready for yourself until someone is advocating for you.

“I was promoted whilst on maternity leave and that was very unusual. It made me step up to a leadership position I would never have applied for. Years later, when I was the hiring manager, I remembered this and gave an opportunity to a woman who I knew would be taking a career break to have a baby. We made it work and she is still with the firm whilst on her second maternity leave.

“I am sure we have all seen headlines and read research showing the ethical and business reasons for female leadership – including that it fosters diversity and creativity of thought – and how a diverse workforce and leadership team can lead to improved financial performance and competitiveness. 

“The call for investing in women’s leadership has never been louder,” says Phuong.

Jackie Cureton is Chief Diversity Officer at Bit.ly, where the majority of executive leadership is female (62 per cent). “We’ve had tremendous progress so far, but now we are entering a period of complacency and gains are starting to slowing down,” observes Jackie.

“We have to stay intentional about it. And we also have to ensure we are making progress also for all women and all intersectionalities. Many women think twice about taking on responsibilities at work because of balancing their home life and caring responsibilities – not just childcare but adult care in many instances.

“There has been a focus on recruiting rather than building out an internal pipeline. And it shouldn’t be just about a development programme, it has to be about sponsorship as well. I see many women who are over-mentored but under-sponsored.”

In Australia, where recent legislation requires organisations to report their gender pay gap, women remain underrepresented in key-decision making roles across almost all industries. Only 22 per cent of CEOs are female with just 19 per cent representation as board chairs (source: Workplace Gender Equality Agency).  

Maureen Frank was part of the advisory team for Telstra, Australia’s major telecommunications company, which improved female representation at leadership level from 7 per cent to 31 per cent in two years.

“We had that unique combination of an extremely supportive chief people officer and CEO as well as the whole executive team talking on a regular basis about women in management – along with a sense of urgency about it,” says Maureen.

“If we don’t change the culture of leadership we won’t achieve anything. We’ve made such a big investment in DEI but we’re not getting results because if leaders don’t change, nothing will change. Accountability around behaviour – such as bonuses and promotion – will help address the issue. 

“I see a real shift in organisations taking a broader approach focusing on inclusion rather than diversity. We can’t have diversity without a long-term, strategic commitment to inclusion.”

Click here to become a member of the network and to access the Women in Leadership panel session featuring Phuong and Jackie, as well as much, much more.



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