20 August 2020
More women on boards should mean a greater focus on harassment
Women make up a record 31.3 per cent of directors of ASX 200 companies, raising hopes that boards will place a greater focus on sexual harassment issues and engage in more vigorous debates around appropriate policies for bullying and harassment.
Only one company in the ASX 200 has no female board members, says Macquarie Group director Nicola Wakefield Evans, Janie Barrett
The Australian Institute of Company Directors said on Wednesday the proportion of female directors on ASX 300 boards also reached a record high of 29.3 per cent in July, up from 24.9 per cent in May 2018. Further, as of August 1, only one company in the ASX 200, Silver Lake Resources, had no female directors, down from 50 companies with no female representation five years ago.
"It's a complete turnaround. It's a really positive achievement," said Nicola Wakefield Evans, a director of property company Lendlease, investment bank Macquarie Group and life insurer MetLife Australia.
Release of the data comes after The Australian Financial Review revealed AMP had promoted Boe Pahari to chief executive of its asset management division, AMP Capital, despite penalising him $500,000 following a sexual harassment claim in 2017. A quarter of AMP directors are female.
The rise in the number of women sitting around the top table should help to raise awareness of sexual harassment, improve boards' probing of the issue and encourage companies to be more pro-active to reduce the number of incidents,
said Claire Braund
, chief executive of Women on Boards.
Women who had experienced harassment themselves, or knew someone who had, were more likely to ask detailed questions about issues such as the validity of staff surveys, comparisons with competitors, the protections on offer to the victims and the inner workings of the disclosure process to ensure victims were protected.
"It will raise awareness of the problem and put a greater focus on the need to do something about it. Hopefully it will also crystallise for directors and management that this is everyone's issue. It is not just a women's issue. It is an issue for men and women," Ms Braund said.
Alex Wade, who joined AMP in January last year, had only been promoted to head of AMP Australia in October 2019.
edits BOSS, and writes about workplace issues. She was Financial Services of the Financial Review and Personal Finance editor of the AFR, Age and Sydney Morning Herald. She edited business news for The Times of London. Connect with Sally on Twitter.