Boardlinks needs better balance

The Liberal Government has not covered itself in glory when it comes to promoting women into leadership roles and its latest efforts with regard to Government boards and committees are lacklustre to say the least.
The re-launch of the Labor initiated Boardlinks program by Minister for Employment and Women, Senator Michaelia Cash, at a top-end-of-town event at Kiribilli House this week (Wed Sept 28th) has all the hallmarks of exclusivity and elitism that Women on Boards and others have been working so hard to remove from the board appointments process.

It is also totally at odds with the original intention of Boardlinks, launched by the Labor Government in 2012 to identify board ready women and provide a springboard for them to secure board experience through public sector appointments. Women on Boards (alongside the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, Australian Securities Exchange, Chief Executive Women and Women's Leadership Institute of Australia) was an affiliate of Boardlinks.

WOB ran a serious and transparent recruitment campaign across its membership and referred a significant number of suitably qualified and experienced women to Boardlinks. A number achieved board roles through this process. However the initiative essentially died when Abbott and the Liberal Government came to power in 2013.

This week's re-launch reveals that the Government has reverted to the safe old formula of picking winners and building clubs. In what is a highly ELITIST approach, any woman seeking to be considered for an Australian Government board must be personally endorsed by an Australian Government Minister, an Australian Government Departmental Secretary or a BoardLinks champion, one of the 18 individuals listed on the website (with no explanation as to how they were chosen).
  • What of the well credentialled women who do not know or are unable to ask either a Minister or Departmental Secretary to nominate them?
  • How will they get in touch with one of the so-called 18 champions?
  • What criteria will these fine individuals use to assess the potential applicants - other than a LinkedIn connection?
  • Do our hard working officials want to be beleagured with emails from potential applicants? 
How is this process deemed to be in any way progressive or able to meet the ever-increasing demands for directors with a range of diverse skills and experiences? It simply smacks of let's put 'the people we know' into positions of power.

Women on Boards, the ASX and many others have all been actively and successfully working to combat this process for at least a decade. For the Australian Government to be endorsing such a partisan and elitist system for nomination to its own boards and committees sends a strong signal to other sectors that they can revert to their bad old ways.

Government sector boards and committees represent an opportunity for many aspiring female directors to get a start as a Non-Executive-Director. There are a wide range of bodies and roles that are suited to emerging as well as more experienced directors. Many women who are not known to those responsible for selection have a strong claim to these roles. Which is why the original intention of Boardlinks was to ensure that through transparent and open processes run via organisations such as Women on Boards, new talent emerged and flourished.

In the backward looking 2016 model, unless you know someone, are in the club or have enough push to knock down doors, then you won't even make it to the shortlist - let alone a board or committee.

Time for a better balance to be struck.
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