55% ASX NEDs female & fewer ex-CEOs on boards


Opportunities for women to achieve ASX board roles are increasing with career backgrounds of NEDs changing and fewer ex-CEOs appointed to boards.


New research from executive and director real-time monitoring service, OpenDirector, has found that the career background of top ASX 200 directors is changing.

While board appointments are still dominated by ex-CEOs, there are increasingly more Non Executive Directors (NEDs) with compliance, legal, research and marketing backgrounds.

At the same time, there has been an increase in the appointment of directors with non-revenue backgrounds, including compliance, operations, research, marketing, and legal. Directors from these backgrounds currently occupy only 8% of ASX 200 directorships yet accounted for 17% of new appointments over the past year.

Claire Braund, Executive Director of Women on Boards, said that that the fact that women accounted for more than half (55%) of ASX 200 non-executive director appointments since November 2020, was clearly a factor in the shift away from former CEO appointments to boards.

"As more women are appointed to ASX boards and fewer CEOs make the automatic transition, we will see greater diversificiation of gender, background and experience on our top company boards," Claire said.

"This is great news for graduates from programs such as the Women on Boards boutique WOBSX offering, which has close to 100 graduates achieving or actively seeking board roles."

Just over half of current ASX 200 non-executive directors (NEDs) are from CEOs or roles with profit and loss (P/L) experience. The next-to most common director career backgrounds are chief financial officer and investment banker. Professional services (from accounting firms, law firms and consultancy companies) combined make up 16% of all NEDs.

​Board chairs are predominantly ex-CEOs (52%), investment bankers (13%) and men (89%).

“The continued increase of female directors in the ASX 200 overall goes some way to explaining this increased prevalence of backgrounds outside of CEO,” said OpenDirector. “It may be that boards have by necessity, looked at directors who do not fit the traditional CEO  career background.” 

Analysis of top ASX 200 executives by OpenDirector reveals that women currently make up  only 6% of ASX 200 CEOs, 18% of other revenue-responsible roles, and 28% of executive positions overall. Women still only make up 9% of positions that are likely to be preferred as  future directors – CEO, CFO or line positions with revenue responsibility – while 44% of men  occupy executive positions that boards currently favour as directors.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) noted that diversity at board level  improves group dynamics and improves decision-making.

“Having a diverse mix of backgrounds around the board table brings a mix of views and  perspectives which in turn increases board performance” said AICD MD and CEO Angus  Armour.

“Boards should aim to broaden the recruitment net and ask themselves if their search  processes are effective, competitive and broad enough, and whether they are taking  advantage of all the available talent or resorting to recruiting within their own network.” 

Males with CEO backgrounds also continue to dominate top chair positions. This situation will be slower to change as Chairs for ASX 200 companies come with deep Board  experience. With increasing Board gender and thought diversity, we will watch with interest the changes with Chair positions. 

Key Statistics – career profile of ASX 200 directors: 

The report looked at 1,274 NEDs on the ASX 200 as at November 2021: 

  • 27% are ex-CEOs (16% from listed companies and 13% from subsidiary companies) • 8% were chief financial officers 
  • 8% were investment bankers 
  • 16% were from professional service companies (7% from major accounting firms,  5% from law firms and 4% from or consultancy companies) 
  • 22% of male directors have a CEO background compared to 5% of female directors • 39% of Non-Executive Chairs were ex-CEOs, 13% were investment banks, 89% were  men. 
  • There were 171 new NEDs appointed in the last 12 months, 55% being female.
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