The number of women occupying the board positions of ASX 200 companies has hit a record high of 26%.
That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ 30% target for women in such positions by the end of 2018, is looking out of reach.
And the same-old excuses continue regarding why it can’t be done.
As AICD Chair Elizabeth Proust said on the issue at the National Press Club on Wednesday: “This year, seven out of ten board appointments across the ASX 200 has been a man.”
So while the number of women on such boards is increasing, the progress is glacial.
Such glacial progress also means it risks going backwards at any point.
Proust questioned what the problem is.
“Is [it] because women are less effective leaders than men?” she asked.
“Because many choose to have children and they shouldn’t expect not to suffer as a result of that?
“Is it because every man is appointed on merit?
“Or is it because, and I want to quote from an email I received from a man earlier this year after I made some comments about gender diversity – is it because when a woman is appointed to a board it takes away a job from a good man, which, in turn, not only hurts that man, but his wife?”
Yes, the “dinosaurs still exist”, said Proust (and the above was one of the more polite exchanges she’s received on the issue).
The problem is not a matter of supply — there are plenty of women educated and available. The problem is demand.
“I think it is time for us to face the facts,” said Proust. “Corporate Australia has a culture that overwhelmingly promotes and rewards Anglo-Saxon males. It is clear that because of this, the top of our corporate sector doesn’t reflect our community or the widespread talent within it.
Proust also quoted the disturbing stat we’ve heard over and over again: there are more men named Peter serving as CEOs and chairs of ASX 200 companies than there are women. There are also more men named John. And more men again named David.
Elizabeth Proust, Jane Halton & Peggy O’Neal, Address the #NPC to discuss ‘the opportunities & challenges in levelling the playing field for women in corporate Australia, the public service and sport’ #live on ABC pic.twitter.com/ayfwxvO9uz
— National Press Club (@PressClubAust) December 6, 2017
“What drives this is not necessarily some burning desire to treat the glass ceiling as if it is a floor. It is often that we often have an idea of what a leader looks like and that picture is usually a tall, white male,” said Proust.
Still, (most) large boards are catching on to the need for gender diversity.
While there are still eight ASX 200 boards with no women, that number has dropped from 30 in 2015 and 16 this time last year. And the number of boards that are number at least 30% female has also doubled since 2015: from 35 to 70 as of 30 November 2017.
Proust said the AICD will continue to advocate for greater board diversity, and noted that the business case for change is clear.
But this is not the AICD’s problem or concern alone.
And women sponsoring, mentoring and supporting each other won’t be enough.
“Men, as well as women, need to consciously identify women, the same way that we all consciously identify someone as a future leader and sponsor them to succeed,” said Proust.
She added that business can also be a force for good and should push for the kind of society we want to see.
The 8 remaining ASX 200 boards with NO women (as of 30 November 2017)
- ARB Corporation Ltd
- Beach Energy Ltd
- Galaxy Resources Ltd
- Speedcast International Ltd
- Ardent Leisure Group
- Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd
- Reliance Worldwide Corporation
- TPG Telecom Ltd