Women to blame for the mess revealed at the banking royal commission.

Women are to blame for the mess revealed at the banking royal commission. Of course.

Two weeks ago AMP’s chief executive Craig Meller resigned following damning revelations about misconduct within the financial institution he led at the banking royal commission.

His resignation did not prompt calls that the social experiment of men holding upwards of 70% of all executive positions in corporate Australia has been a catastrophic error.

His failings in the role are apparently not indicative of shortcomings shared by all male executives.

His resignation is not evidence that all men are to blame for the disgraceful fiasco engulfing our financial institutions.

His age, 49 now but 42 when he became CEO, has not been called upon as an explanation for him lacking the requisite experience to run a large corporation.

Not so, the former chair of AMP. Catherine Brenner’s resignation from the position on Monday has prompted several calls that the misguided endeavour of seeking ‘diversity’ on corporate boards has caused the mess on show in Melbourne.

Brenner’s demise is, apparently, proof that any notion of women being as competent as men to sit on boards is a folly. Her age, 46, explains her ‘inexperience’ and her situation is evidence that diversity is a “recipe for disaster”.

Never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of executives in the finance sector are male, one female missteps and the push for women on boards is the scapegoat.

It is an inevitable, and desperately predictable, response that the AICD chair, Elizabeth Proust has rejected.

“It’s disappointing that the media, including social media, is responding to issues coming out of the royal commission through a gender lens,” Proust told The Australian.  “More than 72 per cent of the ASX 200 directors are men, so why the focus on gender diversity?”


It seems an extraordinarily long bow to say that the very few females who do hold board positions on banks and finance institutions have been able to so quickly, and so thoroughly, single-handedly lead the ranks of various companies astray.

Company director Diane Smith-Gander was unequivocal on this point.

“I completely reject any suggestion that the push to 30 per cent board representation in the ASX200 has contributed to the failures uncovered at AMP,” Smith-Gander told The Australian. “When seeds are sown over an extended period it is not credible to try and blame the outcomes on very recent events.”

Among the many logical deficiencies in blaming wayward conduct in financial institutions on the few women who occupy their boards, one is particularly, even deliciously, flawed.

The findings uncovered by the royal commission so far make the case for diversity as compelling as ever before. The commission has not revealed an association of isolated incidents of bad behaviour within an industry so much as it has exposed an endemically toxic culture that has endured for years.

And what do we know about the group of leaders who have been running these institutions?

As, Su Dharmapala pointed out on Women’s Agenda earlier this week:

“Do me a favour and google the boards of every single major financial institution in this country and tell me how many people of colour you see in those board photos? Women of colour? I have counted and there is only one –  Shemara Wikramanayake from Macquarie.”

The leaders of Australia’s financial institutions are – and always have been – incredibly homogenous.

The Leading For Change report released by Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane in March showed that 75.9 per cent of Australia’s most senior leaders have an Anglo-Celtic background, while 19 per cent have a European background.

Just 4.7 per cent have a non-European background and only 0.4 per cent have an Indigenous background.

Research from March 2017 from Conrad Liveris shows that taking into account both men and women in the workforce less than 3.9 per cent of senior management in the ASX 200 are not of white Anglo-Saxon heritage.

“Straight, white, able-bodied men aged 40-69 years, which represents the majority of Australian leadership, are 8.4 per cent of the population,” Liveris told Fairfax Media.  “Yet Australian leadership is blindingly white with only 3.9 per cent of ASX executives with descent from non-European backgrounds.”

Far from highlighting that the ‘push for diversity’ has caused the mess among lenders, the royal commission precisely and comprehensively highlights why diversity is so desperately needed.

Diversity isn’t the objective because there is a single group of the population that is materially better than any other: it’s that having a cross-section of the population in a decision making group creates materially better outcomes for companies, countries and individuals.

That isn’t a hunch or an agenda. It is an empirical point of fact that has been proved time and time again. One senior woman messing up does not change that. If that were the case, by the same logic men would have been excluded – well and truly – from running companies long ago.

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