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'Catastrophic bias' exists in senior management ranks

Global technology executive Kate Woolley has called for an end to the "woman tax".

The Australian high-flyer told an International Women's Day event this week she grew up with every advantage and was surrounded by gender equity.

"For the first 30 years of my life, including my early career, I didn't really understand what all this fuss was about - gender diversity and the lack of it," she told the tech industry lunch in Canberra.

But the realisation of "catastrophic bias" hit when she became the only woman in the room in senior levels of business.

"As I stand here today, I wish we were in a world where my role and the fact I'm female is not something to be talked about, but it appears we're a long way from that," Ms Woolley said.

She called for everyone to speak up when they see bias and discrimination.

Ms Woolley said it was incredibly taxing to do so and takes confidence and a feeling of security to call it out, and it often falls on the female worker to do it.

"I call this the woman tax," she said.

"We need to recognise it and share the load across all of us ... shoulder to shoulder."

Ms Woolley said her son wants to be a coder and her daughter wants to be a Formula 1 driver, and she loves the fact she wants to do it.

"But I hate the fact that at age four she already knows there are no female Formula 1 drivers," she said.

The path to being a global executive, and co-parenting two children, began in Launceston and the University of Melbourne, and included a stint at business consultancy Bain as a partner in the New York office.

As General Manager of IBM Ecosystems, Ms Woolley said it was important to her to feel she had support to do things her way, which included a senior mentor.

Being a champion of women in the day-to-day moments goes a long way in giving confidence to people to be themselves, she said.

In an address to the Australian Information Industry Association event, Ambassador to the United States Arthur Sinodinos said the road to true gender equality is long and hard.

He said he was reminded of this recently when the newly appointed ambassador for gender equality Stephanie Copus-Campbell was subjected to vicious trolling online for daring to make a video about her plans.

The video on Twitter has attracted 4.5 million views and more than 6000 comments, many about her appearance, since it was posted last month.

"Gender equality is not about being woke or playing identity politics," he said.

"It's about treating others as we would want to be treated, to walk in the shoes of another and see the world as they see it."

He said it's not only the right thing to do, but the business case is incontrovertible.

"By making the best use of everyone to fulfil their potential we're all better off."