This International Women’s Day, Sydney’s Pymble Ladies’ College is launching its Chairs for Change campaign calling for companies to ditch the term ‘Chairman’ for the more gender-neutral term ‘Chair’.
“At Women on Boards we have been using the term ‘Chair’ for many years now and adopt this wherever possible in line with current standards. We support this push from PLC and the AFR to push for an end to this long- antiquated term to accurately reflect today’s diverse boards,” said WOB Chief Operating Officer, Nicole Donegan.
Pymble Ladies’ College Principal, Dr Kate Hadwen, said the Chairs for Change campaign was inspired by the AFR article from 2022 titled Only 10 percent of major ASX companies led by a female chairman.
“The headline alone raised an interesting question. Is language holding back women from aspiring to lead Boards? The article went on to point out that just 21 blue-chip companies in Australia have female ‘chairmen’,” said Kate.
“The term chairman dates back to the 1650s, when the word meant “occupier of a chair of authority”. Today, the reference to gender in the title reinforces stereotypes that tie men to this leadership position. For this reason, many schools have moved away from Headmaster and Headmistress to Head of School or Principal. What a statement it would make if corporate Australia moved from Chairman to Chair.”
In a statement published in the AFR, Kate goes on to discuss how language can influence subconscious bias.
“Language is a powerful tool. It shapes people and culture, and ultimately changes behaviour. Research shows the way we use language can influence subconscious biases without us even realising. At times, we continue to use words we have always used without questioning the inferences and messages they convey in the modern context. Given that we know language reinforces stereotypes, it makes sense to remove gender from a significant leadership title to make it more inclusive.
“We all know how influential Chairs of Boards are; starting from the top down sends a strong message of support and will encourage other leaders to follow suit.
“Australia currently sits way down the list in 43rd place on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. As an Australian, I’ve never really thought of myself as a citizen of a country ranked 43rd by any measure. We’re better than that. It would be a proud day for our country if all Boards, whether they are not-for-profits, ASX 200 or family businesses, chose to adopt the gender-neutral title of Chair over Chairman.”
Pymble has created a petition to encourage business leaders to sign to help influence gendered titles.
Sign the petition HERE