The top 5 questions CEOs need to be asking themselves on IWD

The top 5 questions CEOs need to be asking themselves on IWD

How leaders should drive the conversation to stamp out gender inequality from the top-down.

BY Sadhana Smiles, 6 min READ

Parity is over 200 years away according to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. Happy International Women’s Day 2018!

This year, the IWD theme is Press for Progress and while the stats seem bleak, we do need to acknowledge that the movement for parity has never been stronger.

There is a strong call to action globally for leaders to think and act in a gender inclusive manner. We have had women step up and come forward with the #metoo campaign in politics, media and film where the message is clear: we are taking control and enough is enough.

But how will we know when we’ve achieved gender equality? When we no longer have to talk about it. When women can have babies and not have their career impacted. When parity is not an issue. When men become our advocates.

In the industry I work in, Real Estate, the pay gap has increased from 2013 where it sat at 25.6% to 31.4% in 2017, 43% of the workforce is female and 34% are in management positions. Yet the number of female CEOs across the country is poorly represented at 2%.

Gender equality is not a struggle for women to be led by women. It is, in fact, a human rights issue and requires male participation.

If I could ask every co-leader five questions, the below would certainly make the cut: 

  • Remember that equality is not a threat; it is a social, economic, political opportunity. Where do these opportunities exist within your organisation? Who is holding HR and recruitment teams accountable for what the colours of your organisation looks like?


  • Address the pathways that have worked for men in achieving leadership roles, which simply do not work for women – particularly when women choose to start a family. Where can you adjust pathways for your own team members?


  • Establish awareness around the dialogue that follows successful women, especially when it comes to overlooked promotions. Remind yourself that we need to be aware of – and address – comments like the following; ‘she wasn’t ready’, ‘she wasn’t confident about the role’ or ‘we looked but there were no suitable women’. How many times have you heard these statements… what can you do to change these?


  • Appreciate the economic value of women’s participation with your business. As a leader, are you discussing the diversity of your organisation with management teams and asking what you need to do to change the status quo to embrace gender equality in its entirety?


  • Be conscious of unconscious bias, as we have all been guilty of this, and remember to make men part of the gender equality journey. When was the last time your leadership or management teams got together for the sole purpose of discussing equality in the workplace?

So where to from here?

Targets and quotas do not address the pay gap. This issue is more important than targets and quotas as it addresses the financial independence of women that impacts their buying power, their investment capabilities and their retirement fund.

  • Would men work for $27,000 less than their female counterparts?
  • What would happen if 1 in 3 men retired on no superannuation?
  • What would happen if 40 percent of single men retired into poverty?
  • Would a bank tell a man that he is high risk for a loan because he is single?
  • Would men entering the work force today want to work four more years than women before they retire?
  • Would male graduates today be tolerant of the fact that their financial disadvantage starts now and will be with them at every single stage of their career?

I would suggest that the answer would be no to all the above, so why the should women accept this?

My ask is not just for women to be bold, but for all leaders to be equally bold for change. What conversations can you start with your people? Who can you influence outside of your organisation to go on the same journey as you? What changes can you make quickly that will connect and unite your entire workforce?

Women are getting better at asking for what they want, in fact, the next generation will perhaps nail this. It is the leaders who are not listening or taking action!

connect   Sadhana Smiles is the CEO Harcourts Victoria, Winner of Leader/Manager of the Year at the 2017 Australian Leadership Excellence Awards, Founder of Links Fiji, 2013 Victorian Telstra Businesswoman of the Year, 2016 AFR 100 Women of Influence, author, public speaker and mother of two. She’s also a Business Chicks Premium member and PowerPlayer, connect with her here.  

Read more:

What the workplace for women will look like in 2030

5 Powerful women on #PressForProgress

What you can do to prevent being discriminated against in the workplace


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