Helping in the push towards greater gender diversity

The percentage of women on Australia’s top corporate boards has more than doubled over the past four years, new figures from the Australian Institute of Company Directors show.  

Company Directors CEO John Colvin notes that despite the need for more progress, large strides are being made as Australian companies embrace the need for greater gender diversity on their boards and in senior management.

He notes that it has been just over four years since Company Directors announced it Board Diversity Initiative - a plan of action aimed at boosting the inadequate number of women on Australian boards.

“We believed we had to take a leadership role on this issue. We wrote to all chairmen of S&P/ASX 200 companies outlining our initiatives, seeking their support in achieving greater representation for women on boards and in senior executive ranks.

“Believing that actions speak louder than words, we also introduced a range of practical programs which we thought would really make a difference, and which have all since made a significant contribution to greater gender diversity on Australian boards.

“There is no doubt that improvement is occurring and that our efforts, and those of other organisations, are helping to achieve that.”

Company Directors’ figures show that the total percentage of female directorships on ASX 200 boards has more than doubled from 8.3 per cent at 1 January 2010 to 17.6 per cent by 14 February this year.

Women now hold 23.8 per cent of directorships in the ASX 20, 21.4 per cent of directorships on the ASX 50 and 20.5 per cent of directorships on the ASX 100.

The number of ASX 200 boards without any female directors has also more than halved from 87 boards in June 2010 to 42 boards. Similarly, the number of female chairmen on ASX 200 boards has doubled from five (2.5 per cent of all chairmen) in 2010 to 10 (five per cent).

There are now only five ASX 100 boards and one ASX 50 board without a female director - and none in the ASX 20.

In addition, the percentage of females among appointments to ASX 200 boards has risen from five per cent in the calendar year 2009 to 22 per cent in 2013. Indeed, women have made up 39 per cent of new appointments to ASX 200 boards to date in 2014.

Colvin is confident this improvement will continue as more boards recognise the value of diversity and actively seek out female talent. He believes the idea of mandated quotas for female representation on boards is wrong in principle, has difficulties in practice, is tokenistic and is counterproductive to the end goal of increasing board diversity.

Company Directors’ initiatives aimed at improving gender diversity over the past four years have included:

  • The Chairman’s Mentoring Program: In its third year, it has involved ASX 200 chairmen and directors mentoring 202 highly talented female directors.
  • The Board Diversity Scholarship: Jointly funded with the federal government, its two programs so far have provided governance education for 140 highly talented women.
  • The Victorian Women’s Governance Scholarship Program: Supported by the Victorian government, it provides governance education to women in the not-for-profit (NFP) sector in Victoria.
  • A Public Sector Mentoring Program: A targeted mentoring program for aspiring women in the ACT’s public sector.
  • Directorship Opportunities: An online directorship listing site which enables greater transparency and access to all board vacancies. Female candidates are also identified for board opportunities on request.
  • The Board Ready Program: It provides experiential governance education for talented senior executives reporting to the main board, sitting on or being considered for subsidiary, joint venture or government advisory boards or planning to transition to non-executive board roles.
  • Education events: To raise awareness of the importance of diversity on boards.
  • Tomorrow’s boards: Creating balanced and effective boards: The first Australian book to bring together key research on the positive correlation between diversity and improved corporate performance.
  • A dedicated board diversity website: It provides valuable diversity research and information, as well as the only real time diversity statistics on ASX 200 female board appointments.
  • Taking a leadership role in developing the ASX Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations on Diversity which created new reporting guidelines on diversity.

Interestingly, over a quarter of the female appointments over the past four years are past or current mentees in the Chairmen’s Mentoring Program. And, almost three quarters of the appointees are members of Company Directors. “A large number of participants in our scholarship programs have also gained directorships on listed company boards and in the NFP and public sectors,” adds Colvin.