Directors take the lead in helping put women on boards

  • Date:22 Apr 2010
  • Type:Media Release

Some of Australia’s most senior company chairmen and directors will be involved in a new program aimed at helping to increase the numbers of women on ASX 200 boards, launched today by the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

The ASX 200 Chairmen’s Mentoring Program will involve 56 chairmen and senior directors of major companies who will work with 63 highly talented and qualified women in a twelve month mentoring relationship.

The program is aimed at assisting those women to develop connections with influential business leaders, gain knowledge and skills that will assist them in achieving director appointments, increase their understanding of how listed company boards work and gain valuable advice on the process of selecting and appointing new directors. It will also be of great value to mentors by putting them in contact with highly qualified women with enormous potential as ASX 200 company directors

The program, which is now underway, is intended to be a practical and concrete measure to help achieve a greater representation of women on boards. It is a key part of a wider initiative by the Australian Institute of Company Directors to address the issue of board diversity which was announced in November last year.

The mentors (see list below) include the chairmen of Australia’s largest companies and some of the nation’s most experienced directors, including a number of women chairmen.

The Mentoring Program was designed to identify experienced and skilled women who were “ASX 200 board-ready”. They include women who already have experience on the boards of ASX 200 and other listed companies, unlisted public companies, large private companies, government bodies and not-for-profits, as well as senior executive women within ASX-listed companies and other appropriately qualified women from professional and other backgrounds.

It has attracted a large number of outstanding candidates, 63 of whom have been selected by a special advisory committee which included mentors such as former BHP-Billiton chairman, Don Argus, Caltex Australia chairman, Elizabeth Bryan, Origin Energy chairman, Kevin McCann, ASX Limited chairman, David Gonski, and Stockland Corporation chairman, Graham Bradley, as well as the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, the Chairman of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Richard Lee, and Victorian State President, Alison Watkins.

“We believe the program will assist in increasing the chances of women being appointed to ASX 200 boards by increasing their skills and by exposing experienced and skilled women who may be suitable for director roles to chairmen and experienced directors of ASX 200 companies,” Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee, who is also one of the mentors in the program, added: “Through the provision of the invaluable advice, guidance and support of an experienced chairman or director of an ASX 200 company, the program will help to assist women towards achieving their professional goals of becoming directors.”

The chief executive of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, John Colvin, said the program highlighted the commitment of the director community to lifting the number of women on boards.

“We received an enthusiastic response from everyone we approached about becoming mentors in the program, which we began back in November when we launched our Board Diversity Initiative. There is strong support among chairman and directors for action to seriously address this issue,” he said.

“There was also a real excitement among the applicants and particularly those lucky enough to have now been selected. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“We saw a fantastic range of female candidates and unfortunately not all could be selected. We have been, and will in future be using the names we have collected, with their permission, as a resource for companies looking for first rate women board candidates.”

Mr Colvin said that the Australian Institute of Company Directors strongly advocated diversity on boards.

“Diversity is a competitive advantage bringing real value and some boards need to be more proactive in taking advantage of that value,” he said.

“We believe that the current proportion of women on major company boards in Australia – 8.3 per cent of ASX 200 company directors according to the latest available EOWA data – is not good enough. It needs to be increased.”

“However, the success of this mentoring program should not be measured in terms of immediate gains in the statistics. While we are optimistic, this is a long-term program and gains may take some time to become apparent,” he said.

“Even though some progress is already being made – there have been 14 appointments of women to ASX 200 boards so far this year, more than the whole of 2009 - it will take time to increase significantly the proportion of women in board positions.”

“We have to be positive but realistic in our expectations.”

“At the end of the day, whether the women participating in our mentoring program obtain a board appointment is not directly within our control, but we hope that the mentoring sessions and associated events that we will be hosting will be extremely valuable and help them to achieve their goals.”

The Australian Institute of Company Directors will also be staging events and other initiatives which will assist other highly qualified women not involved in the Mentoring Program.

Download the list of mentors here.  Please note, this list has been updated since its release on 22 April, following the tragic event that claimed the lives of the Sundance Resources Limited board of directors, including one of our mentors, Mr Geoffrey Wedlock. Dr Helen Nugent has kindly offered to join our Mentoring Program as a mentor and continue the great mentoring work of Mr Wedlock with his mentee.

Media Contact:
Steve Burrell, General Manager Communications and Public Affairs, (02) 8248 6627 or 0407 708 485

The Australian Institute of Company Directors provides education, information and advocacy for company directors Australia wide, with offices in each state to cater for 26,000 members. Our members work in diverse corporations such as small-to-medium enterprises, the ASX200 corporations, public sector organisations, not-for-profit companies, large private companies and smaller private family concerns.