She screams gender inequality but is anybody listening?

25 November 2014

She Speaks survey 2014

Eighty per cent of young women aged 15-30 don’t believe gender equality exists in Australia, while a staggering 88 per cent say that women experience discrimination.

The annual She Speaks survey, by YWCA Australia and the University of Queensland, is the largest national survey of its kind, asking young women about their attitudes to and perceptions of leadership.

More than 1600 women participated, sharing their personal experiences and aspirations. It’s one of the few opportunities young women get to have their say and be heard. The results inform our YWCA programs, here in Canberra and across the country.

They also make us sit up and take notice.

Young women are telling us loud and clear that gender inequality is a huge issue for them. This is despite the Australian Government enacting the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, and the creation of the corresponding Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

A heartening 71 per cent of respondents said that they aspired to be leaders in the future – BUT the pathway to achieving leadership positions is hampered by continuing gender-based discrimination and stereotyping.
Almost 80 per cent of respondents said that gender-based stereotypes affect their day-to-day lives. A majority also said that they don’t see effective examples of leadership in public life.

Statistics back up these perceptions. As Julia Gillard said in the recent In Conversation event hosted by YWCA Canberra, when it comes to equal opportunity for women ‘do the maths’. In 2012, only 12 of the top 500 public companies in Australia had female CEOs, and our current Government has only 17 per cent of its ministry positions held by women. And only one Cabinet minister, in Julie Bishop.

Do we think that there are no women of merit worthy of those leadership positions? Of course not. So if they’re not taking those roles up, what are the barriers holding them back? And what can be done to remove them?

We’re calling on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to make a stand for gender equality because strong leadership from the top makes a difference. We’re calling on him to demonstrate he recognises the importance of placing women in positions of authority, by ensuring his next Cabinet has significantly greater gender balance. He can also stand up for women in the workplace by making child care more accessible to more women. This has been proven to be more effective than his overtly unfair paid-parental leave scheme, in getting more women back to work.

Also, YWCA Canberra is committed to developing pathways into leadership for girls and women, starting with our Y Aspire program for girls in the early years of high school, through to our new She Leads College for young women in year 11 and 12 (more info to come!), the She Leads Conference to inspire and motivate, and the She Leads Diploma of Management for women ready to take the next step in their careers.

We also run Women Out Front workshops, for women to gain skills in areas like board governance and finance. Plus, our Great Ydeas small grants give young women an opportunity to get a great-but-fledgling idea off the ground.

At YWCA Canberra, empowering women is something we live and breathe. We believe more women in leadership positions is key to ending gender-based discrimination, and to building a better, more inclusive and equal society for all.

YWCA Canberra will continue to work towards our ultimate goal of Women Shaping our Communities through effective and authentic leadership. It’s a long road, but we are optimistic about the future, believing that the She Speaks survey results in 2024 will tell a very different story.

But there’s work to do to ensure the aspirations of young women today do not simply fall by the wayside. We’re listening.


The She Leads Diploma of Management is now taking enrolments for February 2015 – take the next step on your pathway to leadership.

Check out all the She Speaks survey results.

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