40% Should be Target for ASX

Women on Boards has taken issue with the AICD and its affiliates setting a target of 30% for female board representation for the ASX200 and then complaining when companies only reach 29.5%. WOB Executive Director, Claire Braund, said the target for female representation on boards needs to be 40% across all sectors - including the ASX. 
The latest report from the AICD on the gender composition of ASX200 boards tells the same story as last year. The average number of women on ASX200 boards is close to 30%, with individual companies varying from 0% (TPG Telecom, Pro Medicus, Polynovo, NRW Holdings, Silver Lake Resources, HUB24 and Speedcast International) to 60% (Bapcor).

The Gender Diversity Progress Report (July – September 2019), which was released by the AICD and 30% Club last week, also shows that the appointment rate of women to ASX200 boards has fallen by 13% in the past year. This is not such good news, but not at all surprising as the AICD target of 30% has, to all intents and purposes, been achieved.

As I wrote in July this year on the production of a similar report, if you aim low then the outcome will be predictable, but if you aim high then people will strive to meet the target. Setting the target at 30% and constantly reinforcing this through groups such as ‘The 30% Club’ will not move the dial beyond 30% anytime soon. However, setting the target at 40% or higher – as did state governments and sports bodies – could start the dial shifting in the right direction.

Women on Boards has long advocated that the target for the number of women on boards – across all sectors – should be 40% women, 40% men and 20% of either, and or, any other gender. It would be progress indeed to see the AICD and business groups in Australia set this target as we move into 2020.

Strategies to get to 40%
If, as some ASX Chairs have voiced, a major concern is the small size of the pool of ‘suitable female talent’ then perhaps it is time the ASX looked at diversifying beyond the club of existing Non-Executive Directors and women with CEO and C Suite experience to women who have had:
  • Big international careers and experience.
  • High level experience across complex government organisations.
  • CEO and C Suite experience in large profit for purpose organisations where women are over-represented.

This is particularly the case if we are going to have people with the skills, expertise and agile mindset to sit at the top of organisations in this new age world, where country boundaries are ignored, regulation is increasing and customer’s and community want to align themselves to companies with values that reflect their own – particularly our young people who are protesting around the globe.
The other strategy is for companies to be less fearful and more transparent in the recruitment process – much of which is still done through the internal club of men and women already on boards. This is why WOB has had some great success over the past 15 years – including four recent appointments to ASX boards through our WOBSX chair-led mentoring program.

So while the report demonstrates that the AICD has a continued interest in the gender composition of ASX200 company boards and is now looking to include the ASX300 and investment and banking and private equity groups in its 30% Club, it is time to reset the targets so we are not hearing the same news this time next year. 

By Claire Braund
1 November 2019

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