ASX200 gender balance up 25% in 12 years

WOB has welcomed a report which shows Australia is one of only three countries to reach 30% of women on boards on its top 200 listed companies without quotas.
Claire Braund, WOB Executive Director, said the report, 'Towards Board Gender Parity'  which was a joint project of the AICD and Australian Gender Equality Council, is a good history of how Australia reached 30% of women on boards in the 12 years since 2009.

Claire, who along with Ruth Medd, was interviewed extensively for the report as founders of WOB , said that the landscape had definitely changed since 2009, when there was a mad scramble to avoid the threat of legislated quotas for listed boards becoming a reality.

"2009 was a seminal year in moving women into board roles as for the first time the Australian Corporate Governance Council Principles and Recommendations included a range of diversity related recommendations," Claire said.

"Much credit should be given to Judith Fox, then working at the Governance Institute of Australia, for her leadership, along with a range of agitators including WOB, to force companies to consider gender balance and diversity as best practice. In reality the inclusion of diversity was a game changer for listed companies as, if they followed the Principle and Recommendations, they no longer had any wriggle room to avoid gender balance on their boards.

"It really was an interesting time between 2009 - 2011. With the established NED community (mostly male) fighting hard against the threat of the under-represented gender quota such as they had in Norway, and WOB and others pushing hard for the ASX to be accountable on gender balance on boards, there was lots of fiery debates and tough discussions going on."

Claire said that in 2009 there was around 8% of positions on ASX200 companies held by women and there were fewer than 10 female appointments annually to ASX200 boards. Following the change to the code there was almost a six-fold increase in the number of women appointed to ASX200 board roles - clearly illustrating that it was not a lack of skilled and experienced females on offer, but an unwillingness for the male director club and the instutitons that supported them to a) look for them, and b) invite them onto boards.

"I remember that John Macfarlane, former CEO of ANZ Bank, famously said that 'the reason women weren't on ASX boards is because men didn't put them there' and he was basically right."

Claire said that t has taken 12 years for a 25% increase (from 8% in 2009 to 33% in 2021) in the number of women serving on ASX200 boards, which is still well short of the 40% which WOB started to agigate for back in 2009.

"Let's hope we can quickly get to 40% for ASX200 boards and then start to address the ASX500 which is really in need of some attention and one of the reasons we launched our WOBSX program in in 2018."

The research was published by the University of Queensland Business School. It built on previous work by the Senior Lecturer in Leadership with the UQ Business School and Managing Director of the Australian Gender Equality Council, Dr Terrance Fitzsimmons.
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