International Women’s Day - Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress

women in leadership roles

International Women’s Day is an important call to action for a gender-equal future, with the UN declaring 2024’s theme Count Her In: Invest in Women.  Accelerate ProgressIf we are to realise this goal, clearer pathways and access to equal opportunities need to be made for women and girls. Brunel's Regional Manager - ANZ Querida Swinnerton discusses the importance of encouraging women in non-traditional roles and industries, closing the pay gap, supporting women in leadership positions and investing in girls’ education and skill development. 

Querida Swinnerton Regional Manager Brunel Australia New Zealand
Regional Manager - ANZ
Querida Swinnerton

The big picture

While progress has been made towards gender parity, the process has been slow - with many more barriers needed to be broken down before representation is balanced. The United Nations has established gender equality as one of its 17 sustainable development goals, aiming to clear the paths towards legal, social and economic empowerment of women and girls.

The push towards gender equality is a global movement, and one which the Australian Government has expressed its support for. For example, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water has established the Equal by 30 campaign, a public commitment by public and private sector organisations to support equal pay, leadership and opportunities for women in the clean energy sector by 2030.

If organisations can sustain the commitment to the global gender equality movement and continue to support women’s development, we can continue to make progress and take great strides in the future.

SDG 7 gender equality

WGEA and the gender pay gap

In February 2024, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) published the gender pay gap of every private sector Australian organisation with over 100 employees. For the very first time, this made nationwide data on the gender gap public information. The report, which compared the median rate of pay between men and women, revealed a 19% (or approximately $18,461) per year gap between that women are earning compared with their male colleagues. The release of the report has prompted a difficult discussion regarding underlying gender bias in our workplaces.

While shining a spotlight on this topic is unquestionably a good thing, addressing all factors feeding this data it’s not necessarily a straightforward matter. For Brunel itself, we were surprised to be scored with a 20.8% gap, despite strong female representation across all levels of the company’s Australian operations.

I am proud to share that over half of our Australasia leadership team are female, with myself overseeing Australia and our Director of Operations Tania Sinibaldi serving as the overarching lead for Brunel across both Australasia and the Americas. So how have we found ourselves on the wrong side of the national average? As a recruitment and staffing agency which works with a lot of traditionally male skillsets associated with heavy industries, we place a lot of highly skilled and well-paid positions which at this stage draw from male-heavy talent pools. Our clients want to place more females in these roles, but unfortunately we need to develop this workforce first.

To help get us there, Brunel has a dedicated Diversity, Equity & Inclusion recruitment service team which works with our clients to attract and retain female talent and help them secure roles traditionally dominated by males. We help women kickstart their careers and overcome entry barriers in industries which are notoriously difficult to enter by investing in training and skill. Through this service, Brunel has been able to secure 310 active placements for females in the energy industry (the third most male-dominated sector in Australia) in 2023, and a female representation rate of 18% across all of our contract hires in the industry.

Querida Swinnerton and Artemis Papantoniou
Querida Swinnerton, Artemis Papantoniou and Natalie Morton at the Australian Institute of Management Western Australia Empower course earlier this year.

Supporting women in leadership

An equal representation of women in board and executive level leadership and key decision-making roles is essential to close the gender pay gap. While men presently outnumber women in leadership positions within Australian organisations the number of female managers is slowly rising, up to 42% from 41% in 2018. However, for the top job, WGEA found that the proportion of women CEOs in 2022-23 fell slightly, from 22.3% to 22%.

The report also found that women are more likely to work part-time (29.7% of women, 10.8% of men) or casually (27.6% of women, 22.3% of men). And with only 3% of CEOs able to work part-time, it can be more difficult for females to reach the top. So, what can be done?

Enacting change isn’t just about the redefining the roles of women, it’s needed for men too. For more women to be appointed to high-level positions we need to rethink how both genders share the load of family responsibilities, which have typically resided with women. This means normalising men taking career breaks and time off or setting flexible working arrangements to play more active roles as carers. And we also need to reappraise how we evaluate what constitutes career dedication and suitability for promotions, to ensure those taking breaks or reduced schedules aren’t disadvantaged by this.

These changes won’t just change the types of work associated with genders now but will also directly imprint on the generations to come.

Strong female work role

Investing in an equitable future

Investment must also be made now for the future generations of the workplace. By taking action now, we can help girls to realise their full potential in the future. As part of our dedication to empower future innovators, I am pleased to announce that Brunel Australia is sponsoring an all-female team from Toowoomba’s Fairholme College in the 2024 secondary-school Hydrogen Grand Prix series!

Horizon Educational’s H2GP program is a global challenge that tasks school students interested in STEM to build and race their own hydrogen-powered vehicles. I had the pleasure of visiting Fairholme last week in Queensland to meet the team of eight and check in on the progress of their project.

Speaking with the girls, I was thrilled to learn that most have already begun planning their future career pathways. Some are interested in studying a scientific discipline at university, others are looking to join the military, and one is even on the cusp of getting her pilot’s licence! The H2GP program is a great means of demonstrating the practical application of sustainable hydrogen power – allowing the girls to apply this science in a practical sense, while also having a lot of fun on the way. We’re proud to be able to offer these girls access to such a hands-on educational experience, and to help foster the innovators and specialists of tomorrow.

Fairholme College Toowoomba Hydrogren Grand Prix

I am also excited to share our recent sponsorship of Strategic Global Account Director & Global Innovation Lead Mike Duncan’s daughter, Ada, aged 15, to play for the Subiaco Football Club under 19’s in the West Australian Football League Women’s (WAFWL) Rogers Cup competition. Having already showing great talent playing for the West Coast Eagles Futures, and as a member in the WA State 16s squad, Ada made her Subiaco debut last Saturday scoring two goals in a round one win over East Perth! 

We are incredibly proud of Ada’s achievements and are thrilled to be able to help her realise her AFLW dreams – showing what is possible when attempting to even the playing field for men and women playing the same code.

Eagles WA girls AFL Team

By staying motivated for women’s rights and creating environments that support female empowerment, we can take great strides together to close the gap for a gender equal future. I encourage everyone to invest in the future of women and girls not only today, but every day.


About the author

Drawing upon over 20 years’ experience in the recruitment industry, Querida Swinnerton leads Brunel Australia and New Zealand with an inside-out understanding of the business. With a reputation for energy, curiosity and an entrepreneurial spirit, Querida is passionate about enacting positive change in the workplace through championing diversity, inclusion and belonging.