I have spent the last 24+ years observing where and how women are provided the opportunity to participate in decisions that matter to them.  And what I have witnessed, is lacking.

Starting out in the workplace

As a recent school leaver and young university student, I worked part time in hospitality across a number of venues where women appeared to do many of the lower-paid roles with less seniority, and the men – of whom there were fewer – had proportionally more decision-making rights and higher levels of responsibility.   

In restaurants and cafes, there were many female wait staff yet none in the front of house management.  When I worked in hotels, most of the housekeeping staff were women, yet the heads of the housekeeping departments were male. Reception and sales staff were female, and the ‘Front Office Managers’ were male. In fact, none of the hotels I worked in across 5 years in Australia and the United Kingdom had a female General Manager.  It felt like there was limited opportunity for women to impact decisions in these workplaces.  

Now I know that my perception was right, and sadly it’s still the case.  According to the 2020-2021 Women in Gaming and Hospitality Annual Report, women account for only one in four members of senior leadership teams and 6.4 per cent of CEOS across the industry in Australia.

Making a career

While finishing university and after graduating, I had the privilege of working more than a decade in government – many roles within national security, defence, and law enforcement – and often managing or interacting with boards and committees. In the early days of my government career, I noticed the representation of women in those fora was limited – although there were certainly exceptions, and I was impressed with the calibre of the women who were at the decision-making tables. My experience is reflected in the statistics of the era. In 2008-09, women accounted for only one-third of members on Australian Government boards.

Work was underway to better understand and raise awareness of these issues, and I remember starting to read more targeted media reports and research studies.  In her 2008 ‘Listening Tour Report’, then Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, noted that men continued to hold management positions in many female-dominated industries.  The report said increasing the representation of women at the highest levels was needed to challenge and change the gendered culture of workplaces and institutions and identified a number of barriers to increased representation of women at senior levels.

During my time in the public service, I held senior positions in policy, strategic communications, governance and parliamentary engagement. I worked in two Ministerial offices and experienced first-hand the environment that exists in the world of 24-7 media cycles, political scrutiny, partisan and factional politics, and more.  Thankfully, I was never personally subjected to overt abuse or harassment on the basis of my gender, and I would never consider my experience to be negative in the whole.  But the environment ‘felt’ like a man’s world.  It certainly wasn’t set up to accommodate women’s needs in the workplace, let alone those that may have families or other responsibilities.  The place was tough, and competitive, and often unwelcoming to women or outsiders more generally. Interestingly, the data reveals that my time in Parliament House coincided with the highest level of female representation in Commonwealth which was achieved in 2009 (30.8 per cent), so I can only imagine the times before felt even more challenging to women. In 2022, the proportion of women in the Australian parliament as a whole has risen to 39 per cent. 

Alarmingly, Australia’s incremental move towards more women has been far too slow compared to other countries.  Australia’s ranking for women in national parliaments was 27th in 1997, rising to 15th in 1999. In 2022 Australia’s ranking has fallen to 57th.

Focusing on Strategic Decision Making

In recent years, I have focused my career and professional expertise on supporting organisations to make complex decisions and helping leaders to build decision capability. Fronting the Canberra office for consulting firm Catalyze, I have designed, implemented, and facilitated decision processes and training across Australian Government, large corporates, and not-for-profits.

Through my engagements and networks, I see organisations and leaders that want to empower women in decision making, but they are stuck in structures or cultures where that just isn’t possible.  On occasion, I (as the Facilitator) am the only woman in the room during decision workshops.  Thankfully this extreme is a rare occurrence, although the gender representation across sectors and subject areas is still very lumpy and it is not unusual for the balance to be 70:30 or less depending on the industry.    

It was around this time that I started to become more aware of the impacts of not having women represented in decision making. These impacts are showing up in areas such as the environment, global instability, human rights and more. 

UN Women reports there is strong evidence suggesting that women’s participation in peace processes contributes to longer, more resilient peace after conflict. Yet, despite this, women remain largely invisible to, and excluded from, peace processes and negotiations. 

A 2019 study published in the European Journal of Political Economy demonstrates that female representation leads countries to adopt more stringent climate change policies.

Rather than complain and chastise the lack of women in strategic decision making, I decided to do something proactive; to shine a light on a better way.  I started WiSDM.

WiSDM is broader than getting more women into leadership positions, on boards, or reducing pay gaps – although I thoroughly support those efforts as well!  It is about educating organisations to create opportunities for women to impact the decisions that matter to them, no matter where they sit in an organisational or societal structure.  It is about empowering women to participate in decision making in a way that suits them and where they can bring their full selves to the table. 

It is about changing the future – for humanity and the planet – by changing who is at the decision-making table.

I hope you’ll join me to build a community that grows the number of women in strategic decision making and provides support to women decision makers.


Annual_Report_20-21_Final.pdf (wgha.org.au)

Women on Australian Government Boards Report 2008-2009 | Department of Social Services, Australian Government (dss.gov.au)

Microsoft Word – ltr07_08.doc (humanrights.gov.au)

Representation of women in Australian parliaments 2014 – Parliament of Australia (aph.gov.au)

Trends-gender-parliament – Parliament of Australia (aph.gov.au)

What we do: Peace and security | UN Women – Headquarters

Gender and climate change: Do female parliamentarians make difference? – ScienceDirect