Sam Mostyn is one of Australia’s most prolific and successful female non-executive directors.
She sits on boards including Virgin Australia, Citigroup, Transurban Group, Sydney Swans and Cover-More Group. Back in 2005 she was the first female ever appointed to the AFL Commission.
Speaking in Sydney last Thursday, at the Women, Super & Wealth Summit, hosted by the FSC and the SMSF Association, Mostyn said the fact she was a quota appointment is a point of pride – not embarrassment.
“Joining the AFL Commission was thrilling & terrifying. I was a quota position & I am proud of it,” she said.
It contrasts directly with comments the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott made on radio earlier today. Speaking with Ray Hadley about a Human Rights Commission proposal to ensure organisations have a semblance of balance on their boards, Abbott defined it as “politically correct rubbish”.
“Obviously we have to give women a fair go, but some of this stuff sounds like it’s just anti-men,” Abbott said.
— Georgina Dent (@georgiedent) April 27, 2017
Mostyn addressed one of the primary complaints about quotas on Thursday.
“I know that’s controversial because a lot of people feel that if you are the recipient of a target or a quota, somehow you weren’t the best for the job or you lack some form of merit,” Mostyn said. “I promise you, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Half of the AFL’s fanbase are women and then then-chairman Ron Evans determined it was “unconscionable” for the commission to not have any woman among its ranks.
They set about finding a female and the process was rigorous and competitive. Mostyn emerged the successful candidate.
“I wore that really proudly despite the fact that I took a lot of criticism from women who said they would never take that job on that basis because you’d never have credibility,” she said.
— Evan Hughes (@evanevanhughes) April 27, 2017
It just fuelled her determination to relish the role and her appointment. She knew she was eminently qualified – but if it weren’t for the mechanism of a quota, imposed by the organisation itself, to manifest diversity – she would never have secured a position and neither would any other female.
Once there she was able to effect change, and while progress was slow, she knows her appointment paved the way for the women’s AFL competition that kicked off this year.
“Targeted appointments are actually part of our toolkit to get people from different backgrounds into these positions so we can get the true benefits of diverse leadership,” Mostyn says.
“I’ve always said that hoping and wishing and praying for the promotion of women, in the natural course, has been shown not to work in Australia … there’s a point at which targets and quotas have their place.”
Her case for being outwardly proud of a quota appointment was so compelling that immediately after Mostyn’s speech, the Summit’s emcee and similarly well credentialed NED, Diane Smith-Gander, made her own admission.
She was a quota appointment on the Wesfarmers board. “It is liberating to say that out loud,” Smith-Gander said.
— FSC (@FinServCouncil) April 26, 2017
Quotas remain deeply opposed and unpopular in some quarters. But if those reluctant to consider quotas are committed to seeing gender equality in their lifetime, it’s worth thinking about Sam Mostyn’s argument.
And for all of those women out there who have been appointed to a role because of a target or a quota – wear it with pride. Chances you are as qualified as anyone else, but you may not have been considered without the impetus of a quota or a target.