The percentage of women on ASX 200 boards is at an all time high at 18.1%, but the upwards trend of the last few years may be slowing.
In an interview with Women’s Agenda prior to releasing a report on the issue, Korn Ferry CEO Katie Lahey expressed her concern that progress could plateau.
“The facts speak for themselves,” she said prior to releasing the Beyond ‘if not, why not’ report last night. “We went quickly from 8% to 12 and now to around 17%. We clearly haves started to reach a point where we’re questioning whether boards think having one woman on the board is enough, that it allows you to tick the diversity box.”
According to Company Directors, 18.1% of ASX 200 directorships were held by women as of 30 April 2014, up from 17.3% in December 2013. While women made up 28% of all new appointments to ASX 200 boards in 2011, that figure was down to 22% in 2012 and 2013. The good news is that to date, 29% of all such appointments in 2014 so far have been female.
Korn Ferry’s research, based on a survey of 57 female board directors appointed since the ASX’s ‘if not, why not’ disclosure rules were announced in 2009 (and implemented in 2010) has found almost half (44%) do not believe progress for women on boards has been sufficient. Almost a quarter (22%) said boards appear to believe appointing one female director is enough to meet their gender diversity needs, and therefore do little more to try and attract women.
However, these directors believe the ASX disclosure rules have had a positive affect for women on boards, with 30% saying boards are more progressive since their introduction and 28% stating that boards are increasingly realising the environment needs to change to attract female talent.
But relying on “trigger events” such as the introduction of disclosure laws or even quotas in the future to help drive momentum for women on boards is not enough, according to Lahey. She believes diversity should simply be seen as “business as usual”, and something all business stakeholders have a role in promoting.
Change can come from both sides of the table: with boards better valuing a diverse range of experience and women putting in the necessary groundwork to prepare for board careers.
“We want to say to women that corporate experience and C-suite experience is extraordinarily valuable. Don’t give up on that too soon,” said Lahey.
Indeed, she’s believes many women who approach her about positions are simply too young to embark on a corporate board career. “There’s so much hype about women on boards that we do get women who come in and I tell them to come back in ten years time. Stick with your career, get some P&L experience, try a government board, try an NFP board and then come back and speak to us.
“I give the same advice to men. If you’re looking for a board career, balance it, don’t expect to get on an ASX board immediately, do some community, NFP and government boards.”
Some of the 57 board directors also offered advice to women looking to pursue board careers, suggesting women plug relevant skill gaps with experience and training, choose boards carefully, know the right people and market themselves smartly.
While Lahey remains optimistic of change in the future, particularly with some of the country’s largest companies now setting ambitious leadership targets for women, she doesn’t believe we’ll hit gender parity in her lifetime.
“Five years ago they would have thought, ‘Targets, there’s no way we’re having that!’ But Targets is now an acceptable word. You never know, in two to three years time, quotas might be more acceptable. We’re making progress, but it’s not fast enough.”
Lahey is heartened by the more diverse range of chairmen currently appearing on boards, as well as initiatives like the Male Champions of Change, and the Code of Conduct signed by major headhunters on offering long lists of potential candidates that are 30% female.