How women make the steep climb to the top

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Ambition, supportive partners, and good managers and mentors were essential to the 27 women executives that contributed to the latest whitepaper from Hay Group: Learning from their Success.

The research was undertaken for three key reasons. Firstly, the representation of women at higher levels in organisations in the Pacific lags behind other Western countries, according to Hay Group. “Goldman Sachs has calculated that closing the gap has the capability to raise the Australian GDP by 11 per cent,” the whitepaper reads.

In addition, current skills shortages mean that business leaders need to ensure that talent management processes are effective, and that they consider all future talent. Thirdly, Hay Group has conducted research that demonstrated the tangible and positive impact that having women in senior roles has on an organisation’s performance.

Hay Group invited 27 women in executive roles in a range of industries to analyse their success in intensive, behavioural interviews that lasted 1-3 hours. The research was conducted between May and August of last year.

“Particularly, we wanted to understand how successful women made significant career transitions as well as to identify the critical competencies that contributed to their success,” the whitepaper reads.

Key findings:


  • Women are twice as likely to actively drive their own careers than to receive internal promotions or to be headhunted
  • Women considered their partners to be the biggest personal support in obtaining an executive role
  • And they considered their managers and mentors to be their biggest professional support
  • Women executives have strong self-confidence and personal courage. In addition, they are strong leaders who articulate what they expect of their reports’ performance, and who hold others to account for delivering outcomes
  • Work-life balance was not seen as the biggest barrier to career advancement, contrary to previous work, this was the difficult transition into executive leadership
  • HR programmes are not fulfilling their objectives

Hay Group’s key recommendations:


  • Consider the ROI of your approach to increasing female representation in the executive suite
  • Hold managers to account for development and promotion. Help them to build skills in identifying talent in their teams
  • Provide rich career experiences
  • Take a long term view of career advancement

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