An interview with Paul Zahra CEO


Q. The ARA has taken a strong stand on Gender Equality why do you believe it is critical?

Equality in the workplace is important because it brings about diversity of thought. Diversity of thought leads to innovation and complex problem solving, and innovation leads to growth. 

An inclusive and gender-equal workplace is a place where people can bring their whole selves to work and be their authentic self. 

This isn’t just better for their happiness, but for their productivity and success. 

Women are fundamental to the success of Australian retail.  

  • Women contribute around 75% of discretionary spending and make up 57% of the retail workforce, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Despite this, women only occupy 27% of board positions with Australian retailers and just 17% of our sector is led by female CEOs. 
  • Our sector has a 15% pay gap between men and women in similar roles, which is one of the contributing factors to women retiring with superannuation savings 23% lower than men.  

We also know that women are much more likely to encounter sexual discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace and are three times more likely to be victims of domestic and family violence. 

This simply isn’t good enough. Solving gender diversity in your business or workplace builds a vital foundation for diversity, equality and inclusion that you can then expend and refine to include everybody. 


Q. You yourself are a firm advocate for diversity & inclusion what is your motivator?

At one stage, I was the only CEO of a top 200 ASX company who was open about being gay.  

I take a lot of pride in being in that position at that time, because I would like to think, and hope, that others would see me being open about my sexuality and feel comfortable and confident that they could do the same.  

I believe unless we achieve gender equality in the Board room, we have no hope solving the other diversity pillars- cultural diversity, people living with a disability, First Nations people, and of course, people that identify as LGBTIQ+.

And ultimately, taking that brave step of being a visible, helped me do undertake some of my dream career aspirations – helping others in the LGBTIQ community through my work at Pinnacle Foundation (who provide scholarships to marginalised or disadvantaged LGBTIQ+ young people), as the Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Board at PWC and in my current role with the retail community  

There’s a reason that organisations such as the Pinnacle Foundation are still around – and that’s because we’ve still got work to do.  

We’ve made tremendous strides as a society. WorldPride was a great example. For a gay or lesbian young man or woman, to experience that event, imagine how much prouder and more confident they would feel about their sexuality.  

There are still systematic issues to tackle as a society. Legal protections from discrimination, mental health challenges and education just to name a few.  

Q. Tell us a bit about the “position statement” and the impact it has had to date

At the ARA, we have a Gender Equality Position Statement that many of the country’s leading retailers have signed on to.  It calls for direct action, such as identifying opportunities to strengthen policies in relation to workplace sexual discrimination and harassment.

We’d also like to see retailers adopt a 40:40:20 gender mix in boards and executive teams, with an aspirational target that 50% of director and leadership positions should be filled by women by 2030, in-line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals 

A lot of Australian retailers have already taken these actions on board.

Raising awareness and taking a public stance on gender equality is one of the most important facets needed to achieve change.  

It comes back to that unconscious bias that you don’t always see. A lot of people wouldn’t even know how to identify or recognise it.  

Link to statement

Q. Ideally what change do you hope to achieve? In the short term?

In the short term, it’s about making progress rather than seeking perfection. We want to contribute to and promote discussions around gender equality in both the Australian retail industry and the wider community and society. 

Genuine action goes beyond a public statement. It means providing a welcoming, friendly, and safe environment for all employees. 

Educating companies on the benefits of embracing both gender equality, and diversity more broadly, is a great starting point for bringing about genuine societal change.

Gender Equality is not just the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense.