Only one woman was appointed to lead an ASX 300 company in past year

Only one woman was appointed to lead an ASX 300 company in past year

Cathy O'Connor

Progress on seeing women appointed to more corporate leadership positions we know is far too slow, but we don’t expect it to be virtually nonexistent.

But that’s where it’s at in the CEO ranks of the ASX 300, covering some of Australia’s largest employers — and a place where there has been, for a long time, significant scrutiny on gender diversity.

Despite the pressure and all the conversations about supporting women in leadership, just one of the 23 CEO appointments at Australia’s largest 300 listed organisations went to a woman during the 2021 reporting season. Just one. That was Cathy O’Connor, appointed to lead oOh!media in May 2021.

And more than a third (at 38 per cent) of ASX 300 companies still do not have a single woman in an executive team line role, making it hard to see a pipeline for women to be appointed to the CEO position.

On the ASX 200, the CEO female appointment rate was zero.

That means the proportion of women leading ASX 300 entities is 6.2 per cent, with 18 women in such positions. On the ASX 200, it’s five per cent, the same as back in 2017.

According to Chief Executive Women, which has released the findings through its Census report out today, the figures highlight the need for gender targets to improve female leadership representation.

CEW has been running this CEO Census for five years now, and there has been little to no progress on the numbers.

As CEW President Sam Mostyn said on the release of the findings, the results should be a “wake up call to Australian business leaders, political leaders and investors, now is the time for action.”

According to other findings from the CEO Census, women make up a quarter (26 per cent) of roles in Executive Leadership Teams across the ASX 200, a figure which has barely changed since 2019. At this rate, it will take 65 years — or until 2086 — before women make up 40 per cent of line roles in executive leadership teams, based on the trends CEW has observed over the past five years.

Once again, these figures apply to public entities that face significant scrutiny regarding their boards and senior leadership teams and have to report on appointments. One can only imagine then how bad it is in organizations facing less public scrutiny.

Mostyn said that setting gender balance targets for executive leadership teams, focussing particularly on those roles with profit and loss responsibilities — which tend to provide the pipeline to the CEO position — is needed, and will help ensure women are represented at critical decision-making tables

“We know gender-balanced organisations perform better. It is notable that the top-performing companies, the ASX50, have greater representation of women in senior roles. They show us that gender balance is achievable,” she said.

“We must set ambitious targets that are accountable and can be tracked to build the pipeline for more women to lead businesses, which will benefit our economy.”

For the first time, the CEW Census also reported on whether companies have gender diversity targets, and if those companies are meeting such targets. Here, they found that the proportion to have done so is significantly higher in the largest 100 entities (at 50 per cent), compared to the ASX 300 (at 29 per cent).

Mostyn said those failing to set targets are missing a massive opportunity.

“We believe that targets can be transformative if they can be tracked and leaders are accountable for delivering them. Investors are also increasingly demanding greater gender balance and we believe targets are part of this story,” she said. 

“As we continue to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia must use all of its available resources. Australian women are the most educated in the world, but CEW Census data shows we’re not making the most of their talent and our investment in their education and career development. Maximizing how we make use of women in the workforce and in a leadership position.”

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