NAWO Knowledge Share Forums are forums limited to 12 participants – 1 per NAWO member organisation – who are passionate about driving diversity and inclusion strategies forward in their organisations. The forums are designed to inspire the co-creation of pragmatic actions that will make a difference in the topic area.


According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), the proportion of women in the workforce has increased substantially over the past 30 years and women now make up 46% of the Australian workforce. Women also make up 55.7% of Bachelor degree holders. Yet this is not translating to women progressing to senior management positions.

  • Women hold just 21.9% of ASX 200 directorships.
  • Less than 1 in 5 CEOs (15.4%) are women within non-public sector organisations with 100 or more employees.
  • Only 27.4% of key management personnel are women within non-public sector organisations with 100 or more employees

There has been considerable time to achieve an equal gender representation in top management, so why is progress towards this goal so small and agonisingly slow?

The reasons for underrepresentation of women in leadership positions are complex and include:

  • women’s ongoing disproportionate responsibility for caring and housework, resulting in a ‘double burden’ for working women making senior management careers difficult to pursue;
  • lack of flexible working arrangements, particularly at higher levels in companies, coupled with a need for greater organisational support for managers to design flexible and reduced hours jobs;
  • effects of conscious and unconscious bias, including stereotyping of women and mothers.

Gender diversity targets are one possible solution, but do they actually result in greater female representation?

Do they compromise the quality of female appointments?

How do you engage the leadership team and employees to embrace and support targets?

And what is the impact of gender diversity on the employer brand?

These and many other questions were posed at a NAWO Knowledge Share Forum, generously hosted by Lion and facilitated by D&I Consulting Services. Participating companies included Lion, BlueScope, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, George Weston Foods, Pernod-Ricard, PPG Industries and Boral.

What are gender targets?

Gender targets are defined as aspirational and are voluntarily set at an organisation’s own discretion to achieve greater gender diversity. Targets are specific, measurable objectives with specific timeframes in which to be achieved, eg 50/50 gender balance by 2025.

Quotas on the other hand are mandated by an external body and are imposed upon an organisation.

This Knowledge Share Forum specifically focussed the discussion around gender targets (not quotas).

Do we set targets and are they working?

It was evident that not all companies have gender diversity targets and those that do have targets do not always communicate this across every level of the organisation. Some organisations only communicate targets at a leadership level and focus on promoting the company values and inclusive behaviours across the wider workforce.

Across the board, it was evident that senior management buy-in and utilising all available data were critical for implementing targets.

4 Tips for Setting Targets

  1. Realistic targets are important – explore the hard data to generate insights to test hypotheses and combine with comments from engagement surveys to build the business case.
  2. Use projected turnover rates to inform recruitment decisions and data analysis to generate targets. Data regression helps determine number of females that need to be hired to drive change.
  3. Senior level sponsorship is imperative – feedback from CEO, diversity council, monthly lead team reviews, employee led networks captured. Executives should be held accountable every quarter.
  4. ‘What gets measured gets managed’. Make sure progress against targets are measured so it gets the focus. Eg monthly or quarterly executive review on data.

What are the challenges around implementing targets?

Many of the challenges around developing and implementing gender diversity targets in the operational environment involved perception. Forum participants identified 5 key challenges:

  1. Translating inclusion and diversity policy to the supply chain environment – determining what’s tangible – is a challenge.
  2. Backlash: Men fear it’s ‘out with the men and in with the women’ – a zero sum game.
  3. When senior women do make it to leadership roles, they don’t always reach out to ‘help others up the ladder’.
  4. Challenging perceptions: Will it signal the end of recruiting the ‘best’ person for the job? Eg ‘you got the job because you are female’.
  5. Communicating the changes and confronting perceptions and ‘water cooler conversations’. Workshops on how to respond/provide tips were suggested.

What can we do better?

Participants’ willingness to engage in meaningful discussion around initiatives that promote the benefits of targets and improve outcomes for gender diversity generated a useful list of 12 key points for achieving both:

  1. Leaders must be able to communicate/articulate the case for change. Eg 400 leaders attending an inclusion & diversity workshop highlights the weight of significance being placed on this topic.
  2. A higher number of women shifts the culture. The momentum of change and the value in growing a culture of business performance drives others to want to do more: “I want some of that”.
  3. When it comes to adopting targets, Line talking to Line has a much greater impact than being driven by People and Culture or HR.
  4. In supply chain, ‘if it’s not measured, it’s not important’. Use different sources of data to set targets (eg HR statistics, surveys, anecdotal comments, etc) and share data and progress. Adopt the same mindset on Inclusion that we have on Safety
  5. It’s not just about employing more females – the combination of gender and building teams with the right skills and mix is critical. Determine the needs of the job with a future focus, ie technical skills vs leadership capabilities.
  6. Targets drive us to dip into a much broader resource pool of industry experience to attract talent.
  7. Determine ‘merit’ – is it industry experience, having a fork lift ticket or manufacturing experience, or is it the drive to work, learn and succeed?
  8. Take the time to build the mindset – understanding the benefits of targets internally and more broadly is critical.
  9. Set realistic and achievable targets. Eg take into consideration that you will be recruiting fewer people during a downturn when there is low or no turnover.
  10. Targets provide a valuable opportunity to influence third party providers, eg recruitment firms that provide casuals.
  11. Onboarding is critical for both new and existing team members. Utilise female staff to provide site tours and participate in induction to answer the question – ‘what’s it like to work here?’. Check-in on the ‘water cooler conversations’ regularly.
  12. Tap the talent pipeline at the source. Employ graduates strategically within the business, operating machinery and being encouraged to get their forklift licence. NAWO’s Project i paid internships for undergraduates are a great place to start.

Employer Branding & Attraction

Does greater gender diversity within your organisation result in a more positive brand in the market? Forum participants were unanimous that this is the case.

The questions that sparked intense discussion were: How do we ensure we ‘walk the talk’? And what can we do to attract more women to non-traditional roles & broaden the talent pool?

Participants shared their thoughts and experiences on how best to demonstrate diversity outcomes in order to enhance employer brand and attract the best talent, generating the following 9 Top Tips:

  1. Your website and social media should display details of how your organisation supports gender diversity and inclusion for candidates to explore and get a feel for the culture of the organisation. Profile female leaders to showcase work and demonstrate gender diversity through videos and stories. Lion provided a terrific example of their highly strategic social media campaign, run over a 3-month period, to push out messages on ‘who we are as an organisation and what we do’. This was supported by analytics and high touch to speak to the intended target audience.
  2. Use and leverage data from different sources to help tell your diversity story. Eg WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency) provides statistics, benchmark comparisons, etc.
  3. Are you ‘walking the talk’ of your external brand? Authenticity is crucial. Eg Pepsi leaders ‘leave loudly’, promoting workplace flexibility.
  4. What is your organisation’s ‘talent brand’? Organisations don’t own it – again, it needs to built on authenticity and what’s true. Your employees are your most powerful advocates, for better or worse. Candidates will be evaluating your organisation on Glassdoor, Seek reviews, word of mouth, social media, LinkedIn profiles, etc.
  5. What is your employee value proposition? Ensure you are sending the right message to the right person for your job ad. Focus on the most important attributes and skills, remove detailed (and significantly limiting) requirements for advertisements.
  6. We are all fishing from the same talent pool! There were several useful ideas around both identifying and generating new sources of talent:
    • We need to change market perceptions of manufacturing and non-traditional industries. Eg shift the perceptions about being a ‘blokey’ or ‘dirty’ work environment.
    • Wayfinder: ( is a great initiative.
    • Develop cross-industry career pathways – for example school leavers not wanting to attend university being given the opportunity to feed into partner organisations to grow their experience and career.
    • We need to start at high school level through to tertiary and train career advisors, grow the uptake of STEM subjects and skill sets and the flow into manufacturing.
  1. Be realistic! Talent acquisition shortlists targeting 35% female may be more realistic than 50%. When a manager wants more females on the slate, ask: ’where’s the flex in this role?’.
  2. Promote data around more males taking up flexible work options – instil a ‘culture of flexibility’ throughout the organisation.
  3. Build the momentum – hiring more females increases the number of referrals.

Final Word

Participants commented that we need to think about the ‘long game’ – we all need to play for everyone in order to shape the future of the industry.

We need to do things differently. Setting gender targets; advertising outside of supply chain to attract talent; proactively using social media platforms to conduct recruitment campaigns; continued investment in supporting STEM within schools and universities – a multi-faceted approach will have the greatest impact on strengthening the female talent pipeline in supply chain.

Concurrently, a laser focus on the values and behaviours that support inclusion in the workplace will create a safe and vibrant environment where everyone wants to work, and where women can excel and realise their leadership potential.

Finally, in the absence of leadership on gender diversity – start your own movement!