Speech by The Hon Sussan Ley MP

Address to APESMA’s ‘Promoting Professional Women Conference and Mentoring Program’

Location: Sofitel Wentworth Hotel, Sydney


I would like to begin today by acknowledging the elders and traditional owners of the Eora people on whose land we meet.

It gives me great pleasure today to launch the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia’s Promoting Professional Women Conference and Mentoring Program.

The Australian Government is glad to have provided more than $50,000 towards this conference and mentoring program under the Women’s Development Program Project Grants 2004-05.

We recognise the good work carried out by APESMA and its 42,000 members representing professionals in all areas of the public and private sectors.

We also applaud APESMA’s 3000 member Professional Women’s Network and the range of activities it provides to promote professional women.

In some ways there has never been a better time in Australia to be a woman:

  • Women are represented at all levels of government and business, we make up the majority of university enrolments and we are participating at record levels in the work force;
  • There are now more than 4.3 million women in paid employment and 56 per cent of all women were participating in the labour force last year;
  • We are achieving the same or better outcomes in several key areas including education and health and continue to make steady progress in other areas;
  • At a political level, the number of women in the Australian Parliament, 59, is almost double the international average;
  • More than 26 per cent of our Members of Parliament and Senators are women;
  • We are also becoming well represented in other key leadership and decision-making positions;
  • We hold more than 32 per cent of Commonwealth-controlled positions on Australian Government boards;
  • And by June 2004, we held nearly 32 per cent of Senior Executive Service positions in the Australian Public Service.

It may not have entirely escaped your notice that all of these achievements have been made in the public sector.

I am sorry to say that the private sector is still badly lagging with women holding only 8.6 per cent of board directorships in the Australian Stock Exchange’s top 200 companies.

There is little more than 10 per cent of private sector executive management positions held by women and more than 47 per cent of companies have no women on their boards.

These relatively poor outcomes in the private sector underline the importance of the work APESMA is doing with our Government’s support to advance the cause of professional women.

Our Government’s $50,000 grant to APESMA was provided to enable the design, implementation and delivery of an innovative mentoring program.

Its aim is to help professional women working in male dominated industries to assume leadership numbers in critical numbers and to gain access to personally and financially rewarding careers.

This conference is being held not only to launch the mentoring program but also to offer professional women the opportunity to actively participate and enhance their careers.

The conference will assist in extending professional networks, provide access to experts and build career management skills and contacts.

Leading professional women such as Elizabeth Bryan AM will share with you their experiences and insights into women’s careers.

Mentoring expert, Imogen Wareing, will also educate conference delegates about mentoring.

This mentoring program aims to facilitate and support the career progress of both new and experienced professional women.
The objectives of the mentoring program are to provide resources to clarify and renew career direction, to extend professional networks through mentoring groups and to provide access to professional experts for critical career skills and knowledge.

The program’s further objectives are to broaden knowledge of career opportunities and how to successfully pursue them and to build career management skills and contacts beyond the formal duration of mentoring groups.

The mentoring program includes the intensive one day conference, extensive web resources and on-line forums, access to a mentoring expert and guest speakers, mentoring group meetings over a period of three months and a mid-program support session.

This conference and mentoring program is a part of the Government’s Women’s Development Programme, which sponsors activities by and for women’s non-government organisations.

The programme is intended to improve the status of women by supporting activities that strengthen women’s voices and contribute to better policy development.

During the current financial year, $1.5 million has been provided in funding to the programme and its five major components.

These components are: national secretariats; project grants and capacity building grants; training and mentoring; sponsorship and commissioned research.

The funding of policy and capacity building projects represents just one part of the Howard Government’s four year $5.6 million Women’s Development Programme announced in the 2001-02 budget.

The Howard Government is committed to fostering a culture within our nation where women are full and active participants in all spheres of public and private life, across a wide range of decision-making positions.

We believe that encouraging skilled and talented women to contribute to this country’s decision-making processes is a far more effective way of increasing women’s participation than relying on quotas.

In addition to the Women’s Development Program, the Government has committed $2.4 million over four years to a National Leadership Initiative to promote women’s leadership and participation.

The National Leadership Initiative encourages skilled and talented women to aspire to a higher profile and more challenging roles through the AppointWomen register and executive search service and the Honouring Women Programme.

AppointWomen is a database managed by the Australian Government’s Office for Women (OfW) within the Department of Family and Community Services.

AppointWomen is a registration system that matches women on the ApointWomen database to Australian Government board positions and then forwards the details to ministers for their consideration.

OfW is seeking women interested in making a difference to be included on the AppointWomen register and I urge you to consider putting your own names forward.

Commonwealth Government boards and bodies are highly diverse – from technology, industry and business to the community, arts and cultural sectors.

Most appointments are part-time and for a fixed term. These boards and bodies look for candidates whose area of knowledge and expertise complement the existing profile and responsibilities of each board.

All board appointments are made on merit.

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is a vital and vibrant part of the economy but Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that women only comprise about one-fifth of the ICT workforce.

For the sector to thrive into the future is important that the talents of the whole workforce are harnessed, regardless of gender.

We want to identify and address the barriers that keep Australian women from participating in the ICT sector.

As a result the Government will convene a national meeting of industry, prominent female leaders in the sector and educational institutions to explore the issues and develop creative solutions.

You may be aware of the recent announcement of an inquiry into balancing work and family by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services.

The Committee will inquire into and report on how the Government can better help families to balance their work and family responsibilities.

This Government supports a more flexible industrial relations system, which allows both mothers and fathers to take an active role in the upbringing of their children.

We are also committed to providing families with even greater assistance with the costs of raising their children with initiatives such as the new Maternity Payment, an increase in the Family Tax Benefit and a new Child Care Rebate.

This is extra assistance, which families deserve and which is only made possible because of our Government’s strong economic management during the past eight and a half years.

The Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Kay Patterson, also recently announced the introduction of a Family Impact Statement in federal Cabinet.

The use of the Family Impact Statement will formalise and standardise for Cabinet Ministers the centrality of family policy across all government decision-making.

This will help us as a Government to make decisions that better support an environment in which people can pursue opportunity and build a better life for their families.

In the draft guidelines, attention has been given to ensuring that each Family Impact Statement will address economic factors, families’ access to services and infrastructure and the impact on the way families function and on families’ varying responsibilities.

Again, it is a great pleasure to open this conference, which will contribute to improving the status of women across Australia by addressing key issues affecting professional women’s careers.

Related information

Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia (APESMA), ‘Promoting Professional Women Conference and Mentoring Program’