It will take decades for women to achieve meaningful representation in the upper levels of corporate Australia unless a determined approach is embraced, according to the 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership.
The census, released on Tuesday, concludes that unless organisations adopt a more disciplined approach and set targets at leadership and management levels, the disparity between men and women will continue.
The census revealed that Australia has the lowest percentage of female executives when compared with countries with similar governance structures, with two-thirds of ASX 500 companies having no female executives and only 12 with a female CEO.
For the first time in its decade-long history, the census showed a significant increase in the number of women on boards, with 61.5 per cent of ASX 200 companies having at least one female director.
The director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, Helen Conway, said the results were disappointing.
"Companies have failed to develop and maintain a strong pipeline of female talent, and you can see this in the negligible growth in female executive management," Ms Conway said.
"I welcome that women are finding their way onto some boards, but the number of women in senior management has increased only marginally.
"People are ticking the box at the board level but they're not applying the same standards to management.
"Less than one in 10 directorships across the ASX 500 companies are held by women. This should challenge companies to examine their gender equality record."
The ANZ bank's CEO Mike Smith said the progression of women into senior leadership positions had stalled and a new approach was needed.
"The biggest gains will occur when more businesses not only set and report on targets but also take the time to understand what is needed and take direct action to ensure more women thrive and advance in our workplaces," Mr Smith said.
"This is not just about addressing equality, it actually makes good business sense and those organisations that take action will reap the economic benefits of a more productive workforce."