The Telstra Women’s Business Awards, NSW, in October, was pause for a little contemplation on the status of women in business, writes Lisa Tarry

The buzz in the air that only a room full of driven, successful women can create was electrifying. The recent Telstra Women’s Business Awards celebrated achievements by women in all kinds of sectors and professions. Rhonda Brighton, general manager of human resources with eyewear specialist Luxottica was voted 2009 NSW Business Woman of the Year, and Romilly Madew, chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia, took the Community and Government Award, for NSW, [and in November, the national prize in this category].

This year has tested us all as businesswomen, yet we manage to remain upbeat in difficult times. As job numbers slow, women are less affected by unemployment and seem to walk through the challenges and come out celebrating.

However, the atmosphere was tempered with a stark reality of the ever-present glass ceiling; Australia now ranks behind the US, Canada, Britain and South Africa in female board representation.

Women comprise 45 per cent of the Australian workforce and government invests billions into women through TAFE and university training and education, but the question remains whether we reap and realise this investment through employment at senior levels within the corporate sector.

Only 8.3 per cent of board members are women and women comprise only 5.9 per cent of the senior executives of ASX 200 companies1.

These are pretty depressing statistics and show the need for a culture change throughout the corporate sector, and that cultural change will only be brought about when there is a critical mass pushing the cracks to break the glass ceiling.

Events like the Telstra Women’s Business Awards are important in forming that critical mass. The 2008 NSW Business Woman of the Year, the Toga Group’s Rachel Argaman, said the award had given her access to incredible networks and relationships and provided great business opportunities:

Rhonda Brighton’s award was in recognition of Luxottica’s strong focus on corporate social responsibility, often the first casualty in an economic downturn. Brighton said the company’s philosophy is that CSR strategies help “keep the soul” of the company intact through difficult times like the global financial crisis, and that is important.

The Green Building Council’s Romilly Madew said at the state awards that while she is very aware of the glass ceiling, she has only ever felt accepted and supported as an equal in a male-dominated industry.

The Innovator’s Award went to scientist Cathy Foley for the successful development and commercialisation of a new mineral exploration tool called LANDTEM, sponsored by BHP Billiton.

Lisa Tarry

Foley says she intends to use her award to show that women can invent, create and make a difference to the world.
So despite the glass ceiling, it is inspiring to see the Telstra Women’s Business Awards continue to recognise and celebrate women’s achievements in the corporate world. Each and every nominee and winner is a great role model for our future women leaders. Long may they reign!

1 Put more women on corporate boards, says Sex Discrimination Commissioner, By Sue Dunlevy From:?The Daily Telegraph Thu Oct 15 00:00:00 EST 2009 Thu Oct 15 00:00:00 EST 2009

Lisa Tarry is managing director of Turning Green recruitment consultancy.

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