While Australia is making progress in many aspects of gender equality, female representation in leadership continues to progress at a slow rate.

According to reports, women remain underrepresented at every stage of the career pipeline in Australia, with particularly poor representation at the C-suite and CEO levels.

Despite this, there are a number of highly skilled women currently occupying management and leadership roles across a variety of industries.

Today, we shine a light on some of those, find out what drives them to be leaders in their respective fields and the plight of gender equality in high ranking positions.

Director of Operations at online classified business AnyBusiness.com.au, Mary Tamvakologos found herself in a leadership role under some trying circumstances but with a Bachelor in Business and previous management experience behind her, rose to the occasion.

“Despite the circumstances, I was the right fit for the job,” she explained.

“I have been in the role around 4 years now and the business continues to go from strength to strength. Stepping into what I thought was a predominantly male dominated industry (Business Broking) I soon realised the shift (towards equality) in this space had already happened.

“I found that people are listened to and are well respected in our industry due to their knowledge, strengths and experience regardless of their gender, in fact we saw a number of women win awards at this year’s Australian Institute of Business Brokers (AIBB) Awards, including the Business Broker of the Year,” Mrs Tamvakologos added.

She said balance was beginning to appear across a lot of previously male dominated industries, adding that education, strength and the pride of being a woman was key to prospective female leaders achieving what they wanted to achieve.

Bendigo Bank Branch Manager, Jade Mainwaring, held a national position by the time she was 21, but found that once she began to focus on having a family, returning to a similar high level position was going to be tough.

“Having paused my career to focus on my growing family, the journey back to a leadership position was very, very difficult. I actually found I had to remove the experience from my resume and sadly, start again, despite my background and the addition of the skills I had gained from becoming a mother,” Ms Mainwaring said.

Despite her challenges in returning to a position of leadership, Ms Mainwaring believes there has been a shift towards equality, adding that “once gender is removed from the equation, then the balance will be found”.

Having completed a Doctorate in Philosophy at La Trobe University, Dr Claire Cooper, Manager Standards and Review at Emergency Management Victoria (EMV), has certainly put in the hard yards when it comes to earning a position of leadership.

Dr Cooper recalls that she went to a quality school and grew up in an environment that echoed a strong message that women could do anything they set their mind to.

“I have been really fortunate in my career to have worked with some incredible people (both men and women) who have supported and encouraged me. Like most people, I do my best work when I’m surrounded by collaborative, open and trusting working relationships,” Dr Cooper explained.

“Those relationships have helped a lot when I’ve experienced subtle discrimination or unconscious gender biases. Over the years, I’ve grown much more confident in my skills and abilities and I also love helping young women around me to build their confidence up too.”

Dr Cooper said there had definitely been a shift towards equality, albeit “pretty slowly”.

“Research by groups like the Workplace Gender Equality Agency have found there is a modest pace of change in gender equality of pay.

“There are more women in management roles and there has been incremental growth in employer action on overall gender equality policies and strategies, pay equity and flexible work. There are still low rates of women in CEO roles and on boards so there’s lots to continue to work towards,” She added.

Dr Cooper said taking opportunities when they presented themselves was key.

“Everyone feels uncertain and unsure about their ability to do a new role before they start – imposter syndrome is a real thing!

“This is a sweeping generalisation but men tend to be much more willing to accept opportunities and work out how to do it later. Women are also generally less likely to promote themselves or negotiate pay when the need arises.”

Dr Cooper had one final piece of advice for budding female leaders.

“Don’t go and get the coffees for everyone or accept doing the notes in a meeting every time just because you’re the only woman in the room!”.

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