On 17 September, the Korn Ferry Institute in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Company Directors released Australian Women CEOs Speak, a report on the development paths, psychometric and leadership traits of 21 Australian women CEOs. The report gives deep insights into the experiences and attributes that have shaped their careers.

Skills of women CEOs

The Korn Ferry Institute analysed assessment data from 1,642 female professionals across the world, including 165 senior executives and 71 CEOs. They found that women who reach the level of CEO are much more likely to score very highly in six key skills of management:

1. Engage and inspire

Female CEOs are 2.64 times more likely to be skilled in creating a climate where people connect with the purpose of the organisation and are motivated to work towards the company’s objectives. The Australian women showed a distinct ability in working with people, valuing trusting and engaging relationships over a commanding style of leadership.

“Coming in to the job – and feeling perhaps more insecure than I should have – I relied on the team. And I learned very quickly that, actually, having an empowered and engaged team is a fantastic way of getting things done.”

2. Develop talent

Developing people so that they can both meet their career goals and contribute to the goals of the organisation was a competency in which women CEOs were 2.62 times more likely to have high scores.

3. Build effective teams


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Being able to assemble and lead teams that employ diverse skills and perspectives to collaborate in order to meet a shared target or achieve a common goal was another key management skill that stood out in the comparison – female CEOs were 2.62 times more likely to score highly in this area.

“I think my biggest skill is an ability to work with people. An ability to build relationships with people, and relationships built on trust, relationships built on can-do that are completely open and transparent.”

4. Direct work

Overall, the women were 2.41 times more likely than middle managers to score highly in being able to provide clear direction, to delegate and to remove obstacles so work can be completed efficiently.

5. Courage

It is an interesting statistic that while the 21 Australian women CEOs featured in the report scored lower in ‘Confidence’ than Korn Ferry’s global CEO benchmark, on average women CEOs overall are 2.33 times more likely to rank highly in their ability to address difficult issues and to voice important concerns.

“Having done many different things now…the little voice in my own head now says, ‘You know you can do this.’ It just takes time, effort, and work and you’ll get there.”

6. Manage ambiguity

In a related observation, women CEOs were more comfortable (2.09 more likely to score highly) in operating even when things are uncertain or the way forward is unclear. The Australian women also had high scores in traits related to ‘Agility’ – taking risks, finding unusual approaches to problems and adapting to changing situations.

The report concludes with a list of recommendations and considerations for organisations on how they can clear roadblocks for talented and capable women. It also provides suggestions for women on steps they can take to develop their skills, to shape their careers through strategic decisions, and how to put themselves forward for new opportunities.

“The business case for diversity at executive and board level has been clearly made. However, despite the wealth of evidence that shows organisations with diverse teams perform better, action on diversity in executive and board ranks remain fragile…We must move on to providing a sturdier structure for women’s advancement in business that allows men and women to succeed and to fail.”

To access the full report, please visit the Korn Ferry Institute website.