How WOB is working to get more diverse women on boards

In this article for Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, WOB Cultural Diversity Committee member and FECCA Head of Community Engagement and member of the inaugural FECCA Women's Advisory Committee, Malini Raj, talks about how Women on Boards is working to get more diverse women on boards. 

“You can’t be what you can’t see. Since strategies are formulated at the board table, unless there is cultural diversity at board level, then strategies are unlikely to be reflective of the communities that they serve, and executive leadership may be implementing strategies that don’t have an appropriate diversity lens applied to them”.

The Women on Boards Cultural Diversity Committee (CDC) was established in 2020 with the aim of addressing barriers to leadership and in board and committee roles for culturally diverse women. 

The idea for the Women on Boards Cultural Diversity Committee came out of discussions about the lack of cultural diversity in Australian leadership. While the ABS places the percentage of local Australian graduates from non-Anglo/European backgrounds at almost half of all graduates, the Human Rights Commission reports that only 5% of these graduates will eventually be appointed to leadership roles in Australia.

It has been proven that culturally diverse leadership teams and boards are better equipped to handle competition and cement their company’s position in a globally competitive market, due to connections and cultural awareness. 

Cultural diversity also offers the advantage of attracting and retaining global talent, encourages critical, non-uniform thinking and results in greater innovation and higher profitability.

Women on Board’s vision is to have both gender balance and cultural diversity on boards and in leadership roles. As advocates for women, we are primarily looking at how we can support female cultural diversity within boards.

“Our CDC is working to address the barriers to opportunity and access to leadership roles for diverse women. Only a truly diversified leadership structure can begin to address existing inequities at a systemic level”, says Malini.

As an extension of the CDC’s work, Women on Boards recently conducted research to really understand the extent of the issue and further reinforced the impetus for change.

The Truth Be Told: Cultural Diversity on Australian Boards report shows that while a gender balance of 40% female has largely been achieved on the boards of organisations across many sectors, the inclusion of culturally diverse and Indigenous Australians lags behind.

The research contains a desktop audit of the boards of 232 organisations across five sectors:

  • Cooperative Research Centres (22)
  • Federal Government Bodies (top 94 by remuneration of board members)
  • National Sporting Organisations (60)
  • Research & Development Corporations (15)
  • Universities (41) 

Key Findings included:

  • Gender balance was achieved across the five sectors, with 46% female and 54% male directors overall, although some sectors performed well above others.
  • Overall cultural diversity was 12.5%, with Universities performing best overall at 15.1% and Research & Development Corporations the poorest, with zero cultural diversity evident from the desktop survey.
  • Federal Government Bodies had the highest Indigenous representation at 5.2%, with National Sporting Organisations and Research and Development Corporations having none. Further analysis showed that Federal Government Bodies were skewed with this representation occurring mostly on Indigenous focused boards. 76% of Federal Government Bodies had zero Indigenous representation.

The collation and publication of these data are central to being able to measure improvement.

A barrier to the collation of data are concerns around privacy and disclosure of cultural identity and ethnicity and the lack of a consistent reporting lexicon. The following recommendations are made as a way for organisations to commence addressing the issues impacting lack of cultural diversity on boards:

  • Review and establish a consistent definition of what is considered to be culturally diverse.
  • Organisations should regularly undertake the Counting Culture Survey provided by the Diversity Council of Australia and this should be extended to Boards.
  • Include ethnicity in Australian Business Registry Services Director identification number applications, Australian Securities and Investments Commission
  • Reporting on Director Cultural Diversity and LinkedIn adding a field to encourage professionals to self- identify.
  • Encourage positive behaviours, including encouraging directors to identity their ethnicity and call for boards to publish this information.

This article first appeared in Australian Mosaic, the magazine for FECCA. You can read the original article HERE

About Malini Raj

Malini Raj is Head of Community Engagement and member of the inaugural FECCA Women’s Advisory committee joined the Women on Boards Cultural Diversity Committee (CDC) which was established in 2020 with the aim of addressing barriers to leadership and in board and committee roles for culturally diverse women. 

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