09/06/2015 - 06:27

Voices for change aren’t deep enough

09/06/2015 - 06:27


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Perth has evolved, but the gender diversity of its CEOs hasn’t.

Perth has evolved, but the gender diversity of its CEOs hasn’t.

“The typical chief executive is more than six feet tall, has a deep voice, a good posture, a touch of grey in his thick, lustrous hair and, for his age, a fit body. It seems getting to the top is as much to do with how you look as what you achieve,” an article in respected global magazine The Economist says.

It goes on to compare humans’ way of life with the gorilla version, observing we have evolved rapidly away from our primate cousins in recent times to create a less masculine society.

However, that evolution appears to have been slower in the business community than among the broader populace.

For instance, The Economist revealed that studies showed 30 per cent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies were in the same height bracket as tallest 3.9 per cent of the American population; in addition, researchers found that, of 792 male CEOs giving presentations to investors, those with the deepest voices earned $187,000 a year more than the average.

So the issue of male domination of the top echelons of business is a global phenomenon, not just a Western Australian one.

Nevertheless, the Committee for Perth’s latest study, ‘Filling the Pool’, is both damning and constructive. Like numerous similar exercises, it highlights the dearth of women leading WA’s ASX companies.

ASX-listed companies are a convenient proxy for the wider business community – due to their heavy reporting requirements – and Perth has more than any other Australian city, in terms of numbers rather than average size.

The majority are focused on mining, seen as a male-dominated industry.

Searching through BNiQ, I could independently verify the low number of women heading ASX-listed companies here. It is around 2 per cent.

The conundrum with this issue is that, during the boom there was a desperate edge to getting talent. You could assume that went right up to CEO level; yet it hasn’t resulted in drawing more women to the top.

It may well have meant more females have stepped further up the ladder before, though. It may be possible, then, that the next generation of business leaders in mining may be more diverse than today’s crop.

But perhaps we can’t wait to find out. ‘Filling the Pool’ suggests there are a number of things we can do – such as provide more childcare resources – to encourage change, rather than just patiently expect it to happen.

Stranger than fiction

I MADE a point of turning up to the sentencing proceedings for fraudster William Ardrey recently.

The courts are strange places to those of us who don’t inhabit them. I have been a very occasional visitor since the mid-1990s when I did quite a bit of court reporting of corporate cases.

The judge has a difficult job, I believe, in getting sentencing right in cases like this where the prosecution, in order to secure a conviction, has kept the matter very focused on what it thinks it can prove. When it comes to sentencing, the defence can submit, as Ardrey’s did, that it was all an aberration.

We all know that is highly unlikely. Few people commit sophisticated frauds without having a track record of edgy behaviour. Interestingly, it took me just one day of calls after sentencing to find some people who had employed the expertise of Ardrey and had discovered early enough that they didn’t trust him. That, of course, is a long way from admissible evidence.

My bet is there are others out there. It is common for those who discover fraud to cut their losses and the simply be relieved the offender is out of their business. In the fraud that convicted Ardrey, it is quite likely that not only was the amount too large to forgo, but also he ripped off an unusually determined bunch of people who were not prepared to let him go scot free.

One interesting side issue to proceedings was Ardrey’s claim of illness, which was not only a part of the sentencing submissions but had, earlier, been at the centre of his efforts to adjourn the fraud trial indefinitely.

In the adjournment application, one witness was a Queensland neurologist who had examined Ardrey last year when he presented at an emergency department. The neurologist told the District Court that the now-convicted fraudster had faked symptoms of a stroke, but did so in a way inconsistent with how real stroke victims would be affected.

Despite being reassured he had not suffered a stroke, Ardrey later told a GP that he had suffered a recent stroke while being examined about a bladder condition.

The bladder problem was at the centre of Ardrey’s attempt to adjourn the fraud trial due to the discomfort and difficulty in travelling.

In dismissing the application for an adjournment last year, Judge Michael Bowden said: “Matters referred to creates a suspicion, at the very best for Mr Ardrey, that he is consciously or unconsciously reporting symptoms consistent with a condition he does not suffer and creates a suspicion he is exaggerating his symptoms.”

The issue of stroke did not arise at the sentencing submissions, although the bladder concern was raised again as a mitigating factor.

In addition to that, Ardrey’s defence submitted that he suffered from skin cancer and cataracts, the latter diagnosed in prison.

Intriguingly, Ardrey’s various directorships over the past few years includes a stint on a skin cancer institute and a company called Oz Sonotek, a Brisbane-based developer of medical technologies designed to manage ultrasound energy during cataract surgery.


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