If younger women do not sense that older women like being where they are, they are less likely to want to follow in their footsteps.
The observation was made by Geraldine Doogue during her keynote address at Tuesday night's The Illawarra Connection dinner.
In writing her book The Climb: Conversations with Australian Women in Power she interviewed 14 women leading the way in fields such as business, politics, religion, education and the armed forces.
Doogue looked at how they achieved leadership, authority, power and influence and identified patterns in their lives.
"I developed a strong view ... that if younger women did not sense that older women liked being where they were and liked themselves ... they would not even bother to try," she said.
"I want to see far more women come through. But I know it is more than simply nominating or spotting young talented women and giving them lots of support. It actually is quite a lot more than that."
Doogue chose 14 women who could tell very different stories, but searched for distinctive patterns she could identify.
She found there was ambivalence around the word ambition because there was a real inhibition among women in overtly saying they had been very ambitious.
"I drew the conclusion that until women were more comfortable with describing themselves as ambitious they would have some difficulties fully recognising their own talents," she said.
Doogue said by making it personal the book had also changed her.
"I have become fascinated with the notion of what we Australians do expect from people in authority and leadership, and the difference between influence and real power," she said.
"I actually believe it is the duty of older women to actually display the fact they enjoy where they have come to. Otherwise I don't think we offer any sort of advertisement of why you should bother!"
Doogue said older women had to show it was worth the effort.
But she did not believe everyone necessarily had to aim for the leader within.
"It can be an extremely important thing to be a very good follower," she said.
"I feel quite powerfully that people ought to find out themselves whether it is something they want to aspire to. If they don't I think that is absolutely fine. To follow someone very well is a noble act."
But Doogue said she did admire the bravery of the people who stepped into the jobs no one had done before, because there was a tremendous psychological challenge and rite of passage they had to go through.