Australia's top 100 companies hit 30% women on boards, now the rest?
Originally posted by Nassim Khadem @ www.smh.com.au
It is concerning that the nation's top 200 companies are not moving fast enough to meet a target of 30 per cent women on boards by year's end, says Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) chairman Elizabeth Proust.
The organisation's latest diversity figures show for the first time women account for 30 per cent of board positions across Australia's top 100 listed companies.
But achieving the AICD's 30 per cent by 2018 target for the nation's largest 200 companies would now be "tough", said Ms Proust who has previously called for quotas if targets are not met by year's end.
At the end of May, women made up 27.7 per cent of ASX200 board positions.
There are still five boards on the ASX 200 with no women, down from 13 this time last year (see full list below).
Prominent business figure Kevin McCann, previously chairman of Origin Energy, Healthscope and Macquarie Group, also believes that without strong gender diversity targets more women won't get appointed to boards.
"A laissez-faire approach will not overcome bias, conscious or unconscious, nor the obstacles which prevent women from obtaining leadership roles in Australian institutions," he said.
Mr McCann, a founding Male Champions of Change member, also hit back at suggestions that advocacy for gender diversity had led to unqualified female directors being appointed to boards.
He was disappointed that some media commentators were attributing recent corporate governance failures highlighted at the banking royal commission - such as those at at financial services giant AMP when Catherine Brenner was its chairman - to the growing presence of women on boards.
Some commentators had laid blame for the troubles at AMP on the perceived lack of experience of former Ms Brenner and also criticised its other female directors.
For a board to appoint unqualified directors, whether they be a man or a woman, would be a breach of their directors’ duties to act in the best interest of the company, Mr McCann said.
"In my experience as chair of nomination committees on both ASX200 companies and smaller ones, this has not occurred," he said.
"We have determined the skills required by the board. Where gender diversity is sought in an appointment, and no suitable women candidate is available, we have not been prepared to lower the standards required for the role and moved to select a male."
The year-to-date female appointment rate for ASX200 boards stands at 49 per cent, dropping below 50 per cent for the first time since January because fewer women were appointed in May.
Ms Proust noted that this was happening at a time when "governance, leadership and performance are all being questioned, and often through the lens of gender".
"Australia needs more diversity on its boards, not less," she said.
"Diversity of thought, experiences, background, ethnicity and – yes – gender. This is fundamental to safe-guarding against group-think, enhancing decision-making and ultimately driving better governance in this country."
Australian Shareholders’ Association (ASA) chief executive Judith Fox said the shareholder group had voted against the reelection of Ms Brenner and several directors based on the need for AMP to show "collective board responsibility" following royal commission revelations of misconduct and fees-for-no-service.
It was "disturbing" to see some blame the company's failings on one woman. "Our call for her [Brenner's] resignation was entirely unrelated to her gender," Ms Fox said.
"To claim AMP’s corporate governance failure as gender-specific shows an almost wilful lack of understanding of an essential element of corporate governance — that all board decisions are made collectively and all board members share equal responsibility for board resolutions."
ASA also voted against the reelection of two female directors, Holly Kramer and Vanessa Wallace, and the third director, Andrew Harmos, based on their failure to eliminate unethical practices and address systemic issues, she said.
ASX 200 boards with no female directors (as of May 31, 2018):
- ARB Corporation Ltd
- Tassal Group Ltd
- Ardent Leisure Group
- TPG Telecom Ltd
- Ausdrill Ltd