In the fifteen years since the Hawke Government institutionalised affirmative action legislation, there has been a profound change in the profile of the Australian workplace. Much has changed in the last thirty years ago when women in the public service were obligated to resign when they got married (Stevens, 2000:17). However, Fastenau (1999c:53) claims that Australia still has one of the most gender segregated work forces in the OECD, with women employed in a narrow range of sections and generally at lower rungs on the corporate ladder in less prestigious positions.
According to the Women in Australia report (Commonwealth Office for the Status of Women, 1999 in Stevens, 2000:18) during 1998, 43.8 per cent of the Australian workforce were women, while only 3.5 per cent of them where managers. Curiously, 11 per cent of the top 300 companies' directors were women, but of these only two boards were being run by a woman.
There has been considerable interest in why women are so poorly represented in executive ranks in organisations. Arguments have been made in the literature that discrimination, social stereotypes and organisational culture explain gender differences in advancement to executive levels (Tharenou, 1998:7). Considerable emphasis has been made of the dominance of masculinist values and traits in conceptions of senior management and executive roles.
Beginning with the mobilisation of women in armaments factories during the Second World War, through the feminist movement of the 1960's to the introduction of legislation in the 1980's, women have insisted that there was nothing they could not do and that they should not be treated differently or excluded because of gender. They demanded equality and they wanted to be treated the same and to be given the same opportunities as men.
The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and the Affirmative...