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Call for Women’s Leadership ‘Quotas’

20 May 2014 at 11:00 am
Staff Reporter
Business and Not for Profit leader Dr Anne Summers has put a case for women’s leadership quotas in a ‘call to action’ speech at a women’s leadership conference in Canberra.

Staff Reporter | 20 May 2014 at 11:00 am


Call for Women’s Leadership ‘Quotas’
20 May 2014 at 11:00 am

Business and Not for Profit leader Dr Anne Summers has put a case for women’s leadership quotas in a ‘call to action’ speech at a women’s leadership conference in Canberra.

Dr Anne Summers at the She Leads Conference in Canberra. Photo: Martin Ollman.

Dr Summers said that without numerical targets – quotas – for women in leadership roles Australia would not see real, lasting change.

In her  keynote address to the She Leads Conference organised by the YWCA of Canberra, Dr Summers also encouraged women to stand together and support each other to change the status quo.

“It is ludicrous to argue that 30 years after women began graduating from Australian universities in equal or greater numbers than men, that there is not an equal distribution of talent and merit in this country,” Dr Summers said.

“So why is this not reflected in the ranks of our leadership in politics? In business? In public administration?

“As I have often argued, we need a strong independent and effective women’s lobby – why should it just be the miners, the farmers, the trades unions, etc, which are able to have powerful lobbies in Canberra?  Women need this too.”

Dr Summers said a quota of 40 per cent should be set for women’s participation in leadership roles.

“We need to be quite clear about one thing: without enforceable numerical targets – what I would call ‘quotas’ – we are not going to see noticeable and permanent change,” she said.

“At present, as we have seen in politics, the appointment of women is a matter of whimsy. If the bloke in charge feels like doing it, he will. Or, in the current case [of Prime Minister Tony Abbott], he didn’t.

“We have to move beyond whimsy to regulation. Just as we do with every other goal we are serious about attaining.

“Having quotas of at least 40 per cent will, as Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick pointed out, force employers to canvass the available talent.

"It will require them to take merit into account. This does not happen at present.

“Merit is the last thing many employers look for. Instead, they use networks, mates, old school, footy clubs or any number of random means of recruiting people who – quelle surprise! – end up being very much like themselves.”

The She Leads Conference brought together some of Australia’s most accomplished women leaders with women across the age spectrum and a range of sectors, who are interested in either taking up leadership roles or taking their leadership roles further.

The YWCA of Canberra is a feminist, Not for Profit  community organisation providing community services and representing women’s issues in the Canberra community since 1929.

Dr Anne Summers AO is a best-selling author, journalist and thought-leader with a long career in politics, the media, business and the non-government sector in Australia, Europe and the United States. She chaired the board of Greenpeace International, based in Amsterdam, (2000 to 2006) and was Deputy President of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum until late 2008.

For more information about the She Leads initiative, visit

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