Women in Leadership: International Women's Day 2021


International Women’s Day will be celebrated globally on Monday 8 March.

The International Women’s Day 2021 campaign theme, determined by a global group of private and government organisations committed to driving gender parity, is #ChoosetoChallenge, encouraging people to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality.

The UN Women global theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘Women in Leadership’, recognising the contribution of women leaders as well as the ways in which women remain under‑represented in leadership roles.

Women and political leadership in Australia and internationally

Around the world, women continue to be significantly under-represented in national parliaments, holding only 25.1 per cent of parliamentary seats. Australia is currently ranked 50th worldwide, based on the percentage of women in the lower house of parliament. In comparison, New Zealand is ranked 20th, the United Kingdom is ranked (equal) 39th, Canada is ranked 57th and the United States of America is ranked 88th.

According to Parliamentary Library figures, as at 2 December 2020, 37.9 per cent of Commonwealth parliamentarians are women—31.1 per cent of Members of the House of Representatives and 51.3 per cent of Senators. Women now hold a majority of seats in the Senate, as well as in both chambers of Tasmania’s parliament, and in the Australian Capital Territory’s single chamber. Across state and territory parliaments, 36.9 per cent of parliamentarians are women.

In three Australian jurisdictions—Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory—the majority of ministers are women. In the states and territories overall, an average of 38.5 per cent of ministers are women. The figures for women in the federal ministry in Australia remain lower than those for women in parliament overall. In the Morrison ministry, 27.3 per cent of Cabinet members are women, along with 25 per cent of members of the outer ministry and 23.1 per cent of Assistant Ministers (26.7 per cent of all ministers, excluding Assistant Ministers). 

Women in other leadership roles in Australia

From 1 July 2016 the Australian Government committed to a target of women holding 50 per cent of all Government board positions. On 30 June 2020 this target was close to being met, with 48.5 per cent of Government board positions held by women.

As at 1 November 2020, women represented 32.1 per cent of members of Australia’s top 200 boards (the ASX 200). 76 companies needed one additional woman on their board to reach 30 per cent representation, while only two ASX 200 companies had no women on their boards.

The Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency produces an annual gender equality scorecard based on its dataset, which covers more than 40 per cent of Australia’s workforce. According to the 2019–20 gender equality scorecard, women represented 18.3 per cent of all CEOs/head of business, and 32.5 per cent of key management personnel, and 33.4 per cent of other executive positions. This compares to the Australian workforce generally, which is 50.5 per cent women, however the Agency noted that the proportion of female managers overall had increased to 39.9 per cent, compared to 35.9 per cent in 2013–14.

For information about the history of International Women’s Day, please see a previous (2013) Parliamentary Library FlagPost on International Women’s Day.

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Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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