30/07/2021 - 12:30

Multi-faceted approach to reaching gender board target

30/07/2021 - 12:30

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Investor pressure, the work of advocacy bodies and naming and shaming companies are some of the reasons Australia achieved 30 per cent representation of women on boards.

Carol Ross says the report provides valuable lessons.

Investor pressure, the work of advocacy bodies and naming and shaming companies are some of the reasons Australia achieved 30 per cent representation of women on boards.

These factors were highlighted in a report published by the University of Queensland which looked at the reasons why Australia was one of only three countries to achieve more than 30 per cent female representation on listed boards without mandated quotas.

Australia increased the representation of women on ASX200 boards from 8.3 per cent in 2009 to 33.6 per cent as at June 30 2021.

The other stock exchanges to have reached the 30 per cent mark without mandated quotes includes the TSX60 in Canada (31.5 per cent) and the FTSE350 in the United Kingdom (34.3 per cent).

According to the report, direct influencers of the change in representation on boards included investors, the Australian Institute of Company Directors (which supported the report), the ASX Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations and the 30% Club.

It said recommendation 3.2 of the ASX Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations, which instructed companies to establish a diversity policy and disclose it, was pivotal.

The AICD was mentioned for its initiation of the Chair’s Board Mentoring Program and its contribution to the public discussion about the need to change.

Similarly, the report listed the 30% Club Australia for the role it played in promoting targets as a mechanism for driving change and said its working groups, partnerships and empowerment of business leaders as advocates had provided consistent messaging and engagement with ASX200 and ASX300 chairs.  

Advocacy bodies, the media, reports and government departments were named as indirect influencers.

The report noted a big uptick in change in representation on boards in 2009.

It noted significant events in that year included Julia Gillard serving as Prime Minister, media pressure to increase female representation on boards and listed companies in Norway reaching their 40 per cent quota for women on boards in the middle of the year.

Interviewees in the survey suggested the release of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency’s 'Census of Women in Leadership' report in October 2008, which showed the percentage of women on ASX listed boards had decreased to 8.3 per cent from 8.7 per cent in 2006, was an important moment.

Another key event in 2009 was the Women on Boards 2nd Annual Conference where quotas and targets for increasing female representation on boards was discussed.

The report makes several recommendations on how the country can continue to improve its gender representation, including adopting a 40:40:20 model (40 per cent women, 40 per cent men and 20 per cent discretionary representation on boards) and the establishment of a formal alliance between all the bodies who helped drive the campaign over the last decade.

It also highlighted potential risks to future progress like the shrinking pipeline of women into chief executive and senior executive roles, childcare and the unequal burden of domestic tasks.

Australian Gender Equity Council chair Carol Ross said the report provided valuable lessons as the country works towards gender parity at board level and other facets of society.

“It’s often said that you have to know where you have been to know where you are going," Ms Ross said. 

“By examining how we got to where we are, this report recommends a way forward to reach gender parity in the boardroom.”

Australian Institute of Company Directors chief executive Angus Armour said the Australian experience was a fascinating example of corporate-led change without government intervention.

“This warrens investigation so that other jurisdictions might gain insights from our experience,” Mr Armous said.

“This report speaks to the many individuals and organisations that stepped up to ensure action and advocacy within their spheres, and the result is a historic milestone.”

Australia does not have a similar record of progress towards gender parity in other spheres.

The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report ranks Australia as 50th in the world on combined economic participation, political representation, education and health statistics for women.

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