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Australia cracks the 30% threshold for women on ASX200 boards



Although gender disparity in business leadership is still a huge issue, a recent study shows that the gap is beginning to close in some areas

The University of Queensland report found that the amount of women sitting on ASX200 boards has risen from 8.3% in 2008 to 33.6% in 2021.

This makes Australia one of three countries to crack the 30% threshold without any legislated quotas.

Key driving factors include the AICD’s board mentoring program, reporting on diversity and public campaigns

Dr Miriam Yates co-authored the study along with Dr Terrance Fitzsimmons and Professor Victor Callan.

She said more transparent reporting on diversity within the ASX Corporate Governance Council is a key driver behind the shift.

“We know from the research that formalised mentoring can be the catalyst for ‘opening the door’ to under-represented group members within the workplace,” she said.

The report also found that public campaigns from institutional investors, as well as the establishment of the 30% Club Australia helped drive the increase.

“In many ways, this change was cumulative, with each initiative building on the work of that which had come before,” Dr Yates said.

Source: Statistics are based on the Australian Institute of Company Directors research. Company rankings data provided by Market Index. Quarterly rebalance information provided by S&P.

However, the news wasn’t all positive

The researchers also found that a lack of affordable childcare and stereotyping have continued to act as barriers to women.

The report made a total of seven recommendations, including:

  1. The establishment of a formal alliance of key influencers
  2. The reinvigoration of board readiness and mentoring programs
  3. The adoption of a 40/40/20 target for board gender parity. (40 per cent female, 40 per cent male, and 20 per cent either way)

The executive of Women on Boards Claire Braund described the news as encouraging. However, she also said growth hasn’t translated through to leadership positions.

“There is not really any significant trend for the number of female chairs or CEOs on ASX200 boards. Nor is there any uptick in the number of culturally diverse directors,” Braund said.

Currently, only one in ten blue chip company chairs is a woman.

“The worst sector for representation of women on ASX boards is the ASX200+ where the number of women effectively drops off a cliff.”

The report also highlighted this trend: “Australia’s continued improvement in board diversity sits in stark contrast to our diminishing position in terms of most other gender equality indicators, including gender diversity among top executives.”

“This phenomenon is replicated in countries where quotas on boards have led to the highest rates of female board participation; such as France, Sweden, and Germany. These markets also continue to see stubbornly low levels of female executives.”

Trend in the percentage of women ASX200 board members versus women ASX200 CEOs

The researchers traced the increase in the ASX boardroom gender diversity back to 2009

“The nation had its first female Prime Minister and Governor-General; we were in the grip of the Global Financial Crisis; and the media in many countries was highlighting the lack of diversity on company boards,” Dr Yates said.

AGEC chair Coral Ross said the report highlights important lessons as Australia works towards equity in other facets of society.

“The achievement of more than 30 per cent of women on boards is even more remarkable given Australia’s lack of progress in other gender equality measures,” she said.

A Selection of 2009 Board Gender Diversity Articles and ASX Featured in the
Australian Financial Review

“It’s the mosaic of all the players that has enabled this change”

“What became apparent during the research was that there was no single institution or group of institutions that coordinated the changes and initiatives that led to the increase of women board members.”

“The systemic barriers to women’s progression in the workforce remain unaddressed and are responsible for a shrinking pipeline of women into leadership positions,” she said.

“A further identified barrier was the current board skills matrix, which favours CEO experience for board positions. When just 5 per cent of CEOs are women.”

Natasha is an Associate Producer at ticker NEWS with a Bachelor of arts from Monash University. She has previously worked at Sky News Australia and Monash University as an Online Content Producer.

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