Before CSIRO, Dr Larry Marshall ran companies and didn’t have much problem with diversity.

“It was really easy,” the now CSIRO chief told a women in leadership event by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

“There was no plan. You just hired great people, and we had every dimension of diversity you can imagine, from gender to age to culture.”

But CSIRO presented a different kind of challenge. Firstly, it had “well over 5000 team members”.

“The largest company I ran had 300,” Marshall said.

When it comes to issues of gender diversity, Marshall takes a base perspective that nature “has done a great job of defining a target for gender – it’s 50/50 or thereabouts – and that’s what we should aspire to”.

But he noted it was a challenge for CSIRO, particularly in the middle part of the organisation.

“At the entry level, in terms of gender dimension, we’re slightly higher than the output of the university system, so a little bit better than 40 percent women in that sense,” he said.

“But it falls off a cliff as you work your way up through the layers of management, and then it comes up again.

“Since I started I was able to increase the diversity of my executive team to 40 percent and I’ve been able to increase the diversity of the next layer below that – because there’s a lot of layers of management at CSIRO – to also about a bit more than 40 percent. But there’s still a big gap in the middle.”