Progress stalls for gender diversity on ASX 200 boards, but women needed for recovery ahead

Progress stalls for gender diversity on ASX 200 boards, but women needed for recovery ahead

Women continue to make up 30.7 per cent of board positions on the ASX 200, according to new data from the Australian Institute of Company Directors released today.

That figure, a snapshot taken as of the end of April, shows that there has been no further progress made on board gender equality in 2020. Women have made up just 34 per cent of new appointments so far this year. Just nine boards on the ASX 200 are gender-balanced and only five are majority female.

It comes after the ASX 200 finally hit the 30 per cent mark for women on boards at the end of 2019, following years of work and pressure for organisations to do better on gender diversity. Progress hasn’t been linear, with research released in October 2019 finding that the number of women on boards had actually gone slightly backwards.

Still, the AICD says it’s encouraging at least to see that the 30.7 per cent figure has held steady during COVID-19, when boards may have retreated to the safety of the status quo to get through a difficult period.

AICD CEO Angus Armour says board diversity is essential as we move through this turbulent period into one of recovery and rebuilding. “Companies should reflect on the skills required to drive innovation and growth,” he said.

The report also notes that at this time, when board oversight responsibilities are reaching new levels of complexity, “Australian organisations are being forced to rethink what effective leadership looks like.”

Boards need to consider what skills they need to adapt and respond to future challenges. They should also consider the lessons of COVID-19 — notably when it comes to the value of diversity in responding to such a crisis.

Nicola Wakefield Evans, who chairs the 30% Club for Australia, said that while global efforts on gender equality may have stalled during the immediate response to the crisis, it’s vital that companies re-engage in conversations about gender equality and keep up the momentum.

She points out that less than half of ASX 200 companies have met the minimum target of 30 per cent female directors. “It is time for these companies to actively consider focussing on the diversity of their boards,” she said.

And she notes early indications showing how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting women and amplifying inequalities that already exist at home and in the workplace.

There are still four ASX 200 boards with no women on them (as of 30 April 2020), including TPG Telecom, Pro Medicus, Silver Lake Resources and New Hope Corporation. Nicola says the 30% Club will continue to target companies in the ASX 300 with zero or only one female board member.

Last week separate research from Watermark and the Governance Institute of Australia found that female directors on ASX 300 boards are more likely than men to have academic and governance qualifications.

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