Why the 14 ASX200 companies without a single female director need women on boards

A memo to the 14 chairmen of ASX200 companies without a single female director.

There are 66 boards on the ASX 200 with at least 30 per cent women. This is a significant improvement from 53 boards in August 2016 and in June 2015 when there were just 33.

These figures come from the latest report from 30% Club Australia, Leading by example.

It compiles the reflections of 30 of the 53 leading ASX 200 company chairs whose boards had reached or surpassed the 30 per cent target of women on boards as at 30 August 2016.

It includes insights from Catherine Brenner MAICD, Chairman of AMP, David Gonski AC FAICDLife, Chairman of ANZ Banking Group and Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd and Margaret Jackson AC FAICD, immediate past Chairman of Spotless Group. They discuss the strategic imperative of women on boards and diversity.

They are insights the chairs of the 14 companies on the ASX200 without a single female director ought to read, before their shareholders do.

Homogenous boards are risky

Homogeneity and uniformity will ultimately contribute to the demise or limit the success of a business. 

“Why are you limiting the ability of your business to be more successful? Gender is a lead indicator of whether you are employing the best talent. You are limiting the ability of your business if you are not really serious about diversity.”

John Mulcahy, Mirvac

“Diversity is the insurance policy against group-think. It is how we ensure we make the best decisions to take the organisation forward in an increasingly uncertain environment.”

Catherine Brenner, AMP

“I couldn’t think of anything worse than managing a mono-board. Homogenous boards are very prone to make inadequately considered decisions and to miss opportunities that a more diverse group may identify.”

Harvey Collins, Navitas

“Sameness is the most dangerous thing around a board table. I’m happy that we have reached the 30 per cent target as I feel we are much better for it. I’m not just increasing the number of women on the board because it is there as a goal, I actually think it is virtuous, correct and, indeed, very good business.”

David Gonski AC, ANZ & Coca-Cola Amatil

“There is no doubt in my mind that diversity, whether it be at the board, leadership, management or employee levels, delivers more effective problem solving, decision making, innovation and performance outcomes. It has been my experience that having a wide range of experiences, expertise, knowledge and points of view at the table changes the dialogue, not only around risk, but also performance.”

Dr Brian Clark, Boral

You won’t get women on boards by accident

Having a specific gender target for the board does not, of itself, lead to increasing the number of women on that board. The commitment of the chair and directors is the main determinant in securing such an increase. They are willing for the search process to take longer if necessary in order to find the right candidate, to engage in succession planning earlier and to strongly articulate their preference for a female candidate to the search consultants.

“The view that they are not available, that there is not a big enough pool, is a furphy. But you have to be intentional, which doesn’t mean proscriptive. You need to raise the level of intentionality.”
Harvey Collins, Navitas

“We have learnt that it is a lot harder than it would seem to find the right director at the right time if you leave it to the 11th hour. It is better to be working continuously on succession planning, talking to potential directors regularly and trying to fine- tune in our minds exactly the sort of skills we are looking for. As the organisation changes and evolves, we need to ensure we find people that will add value and complement what is already there.”
Peter Warne, Macquarie Group

“We had no difficulty in finding suitable candidates. It is interesting: once you have a board that is 50/50, gender is not an issue. It isn’t just gender-neutral; you also start focusing more on diversity in the broader sense.”
Margaret Jackson AC, Spotless Group

Not all experience is equal: the group dynamic matters

“In our most recent searches, we were particularly interested in females with the right industry experience. Previous board experience was secondary.”
Prof John Shine AO, CSL Limited

“I think for all of our last three appointments, it was the first ASX 100 company that any of the three were appointed to. They have gone on to other ASX roles, but we have found people who weren’t well known and were outside the traditional networks.”
Robert Johanson, Bendigo & Adelaide Bank

“Women and men are more similar than different. Everyone acts much the same if they have had similar education, training, background, regardless of their gender. What you are trying to do is bring a mix of skills, of experiences, people that have come from different disciplines and approach issues from a unique perspective.
Neil Hamilton, Oz Minerals

“My experience has been, and I know this is not everyone’s, that men tend to be more set in their ways in terms of their decisions, in that the way they approach one issue is the way they will approach all issues. The women I have worked with are more ready to challenge their own assumptions.”
John Mullen, Telstra

Walking the walk

“The board is the lighthouse for the executive. Unless you have a diverse board you can’t put too much pressure on the CEO for diversity. When you have a diverse board you can say, okay, what about the executive and the executive, can say, what about the organisation?”
Margaret Jackson AC, Spotless Group

“I don’t think you can expect management to have a diversity target that is aspirational unless the board has. That would be like saying “do as I say, but not as I do”. The other thing is, if you believe that the management is a high-performing team, in the same way then the board team should be a high-performing team. You need to role model the standards of high- performing teams.”
Gordon Cairns, Woolworths

“The real game is not about an extra seat or two or three for women in the board room, it’s about the manifest embrace of diversity throughout the organisation and the practical ramifications of that – inclusiveness and opportunity for all, at all levels. Reframing of work practices to make jobs family-friendly for both women and men – job sharing, part-time work, work from home. Equity in conditions and competitiveness in the market. These are all conversations that thrive in a diverse boardroom with a diverse management team, but would wither in a monoculture. This is why it matters.”
Bruce Brook, Programmed Maintenance Services

The Q-word

“Are quotas the be all and end all? No, they aren’t. Would it serve to push things along at a much faster rate than we are moving now? Yes. I’m not suggesting implementing quotas forever, but for a period of time to get us there, maybe. I think it is worth a proper debate.”
Brian Schwartz AM, Scentre Group

“I never used to believe in quotas, but now I say why not? If you turn it around the other way, what would be wrong to say that 30% of board positions should be occupied by men? Does that sound offensive? It sounds quite reasonable actually. I think you should go further and say why shouldn’t it be 50/50?”
Margaret Jackson AC, Spotless Group

“I’m not a believer in quotas, however I’m on the record as saying, if we don’t improve the numbers then there is no other option. But we should give ourselves to 2020 – if we haven’t achieved the appropriate number then we deserve quotas.”
Gordon Cairns, Woolworths.

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