I’m not a fan of tokenism. The push for more women on boards and in executive roles in ASX200 companies is about equating skills with opportunities regardless of gender. We are waving our arms around about this because there is still a significant number of high-achieving women who have found the corporate boardroom door closed to them.
Oroton CEO Sally MacDonald alluded to tokenism earlier this year at an AGSM Women in Leadership event. She said she had received many phone calls regarding Board positions. When she asked who she would be replacing, inevitably it was another woman.
Why wouldn’t an executive who has turned her company around, has an MBA, international consulting experience etc, etc be considered for every board vacancy? Why is she primarily thought of as the replacement for the woman who is leaving the board?
I overheard a conversation recently where an aspiring male director was discussing his chances of being chosen for a board that was seeking a number of new directors. He mentioned that one of the positions would be allocated to a woman and that he had a good chance of gaining one of the others.
A woman’s position on a board?
I immediately felt tense as I considered the magnitude of the next hurdle that aspiring female directors would need to jump. A couple of months ago when Sports Minister Kate Lundy suggested that sporting boards without a woman may find it more difficult to access funding in the future, my fear was that it might lead to tokenism. But apparently some boards may already be there. It just may be that sporting boards are catching up to the cynical reality that has been occurring in the corporate world for some time.
One women on a Board of six doesn’t sound like equality to me. Even less so when the board has nine directors. There was a discussion on Twitter last weekend about an apparent NRL tradition to hold a male-only dinner in the week leading up to the Grand Final. Tweeters were outraged and then the discussion ensued about the responsibility of the sole female NRL commissioner to change that. Decisions on Boards come down to votes. How can one woman be expected to overturn a tradition on her own? The same for any other major change that may need to occur.
So the march forward for more women on Boards goes on. We have been shouting out for more women on boards and that has resulted in the majority of ASX200 Boards appointing a woman. But if we want to really evoke change then we need to also be calling for more women on each Board. And we need the top tier executive recruiters who service the ASX200 Boards to be leading this when they advise their clients on board structure.
If we applaud each new female board appointment without also asking the question of who’s next, then change will be a long time coming.
Do you have a story of tokenism? What do you think we should be doing to change this?