Women still absent from leadership positions – Are start-ups the answer?

The demand for more women in leadership roles coincides with a growing start-up scene in Australia. How will one influence the other?


The balance of power in the modern workforce is shifting.

People are no longer limited to just working nine to five, with the IT industry in particular changing drastically in this regard. Now, IT professionals have the chance to work flexible hours and roles with contracting, or blaze their own trail with start-up companies.

Essentially, the power is now in the hands of IT employees, and it’s up to them to use the flexibility of recent technology trends and developments to their advantage.

On top of these trends, there are still other issues for the IT world to manage, namely the role of female staff and how they can contribute to diversity within the workplace. Despite positive steps in this area, there is a persisting gender imbalance in a number of areas – particularly in leadership roles.

Research reveals need for female IT leaders

Many countries around the world are experimenting with quotas for the number of women appearing on company boards. While this can be seen as a step in the right direction, data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) revealed that women are currently underrepresented at earlier stages of the leadership pipeline.

Although board quotas target the higher echelons of company leadership, there needs to be a greater focus on the process that leads professionals to these outcomes.

Quotas aside, data from the WGEA revealed that men still greatly outnumber women in a range of leadership roles. Organisational leadership roles in particular represented the greatest imbalance, with more than 82 per cent of these roles held by men.

The same issues, but to a lesser extent, also persist throughout various government institutions.

What’s the solution?

The WGEA found that a greater percentage of women are completing higher education programs compared to their male counterparts, yet this extra effort is not being represented in the leadership composition of businesses throughout the country.

More than a third (34.2 per cent) of women aged between 18 and 24 are completing either a bachelor degree or higher. In comparison, just a quarter of men are achieving the same feat.

WGEA Acting Director Louise McSorley believes this is cause for concern. Women are doing everything they need to achieve in leadership positions, yet their potential is not being utilised.

“Australian women are highly educated, but are being held back in the workplace and in public life,” she explained.”We are failing to translate women’s education into workforce participation.”

“This is a real waste of human potential and a drag on our national productivity.”

Can start-ups help?

Start-ups offer an unprecedented amount of freedom for entrepreneurs brave enough to take the plunge and create the business of their dreams. However, there are also a range of challenges for these companies to overcome.

The annual Crossroads Report prepared by StartupAUS revealed that Australia is yet to fully capitalise on the potential that resides within its start-up market. In comparison to international start-up scenes, the organisation noted that Australia’s has a noticeable lack of venture capital investment, impacting the formation rate.

StartupAUS suggested a number of actions it believes could lead to a more active scene around Australia. Chief among these is the formation of a national innovation agency to oversee and manage companies as they grow.

The organisation also wants to see the creation of regional support centres tailored to these companies, similar to start-up hubs observed in a number of overseas countries.

Director Peter Bradd believes these concerns are just as important for the government to manage as those in any other sector.

“Our future economy depends on our learning how to mine our knowledge and commercialise that resource, just as much as it depends on finding and extracting oil and gas or mining coal,” he said.

What are governments doing to assist?

The Queensland government has acknowledged the role start-ups play in the state’s economy, and has pledged to assist these companies with a workshop, similar to the support centres StartupAUS suggested.

Start-ups in the region are set to receive a significant portion of the $76 million the government included in its Business Investment Attraction program. Up to $24 million will be dedicated to the Start-up Queensland initiative to create an economic landscape that supports innovation.

According to Minister for Science and Innovation Leeanne Enoch, the program seeks to encourage innovation, productivity and the creation of new jobs and businesses throughout Queensland.

“As a result of the steps we are taking today, we are putting in place the building blocks for the next Facebook or Google to be created here in Queensland,” she said.

“The Start-up package will support small and medium enterprises and start-ups to bring new ideas to market, increase business formation and attract more business to Queensland.”

These scenes are essential to the formation of successful start-ups, as the businesses and their employees need financial, technical and moral support from other members of the community.

With the demand for more female involvement in company leadership, the growing Australian start-up scene could be the perfect catalyst for change.

The technology sector is driven by many fantastic, yet unheralded individuals and start-up organisations who are inventive, inspirational, and passionate about making a difference. At Talent we’re passionate about recognising and supporting those exceptional people and organisations who are making the world a better place through our Talent Unleashed Awards. And while that doesn’t fit within the traditional narrative of a recruitment agency, that doesn’t bother us. Find out more about the Talent Unleashed Awards