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‘Stale, male and pale’: The ‘troubling’ lack of progress on ASX 300 boards

The 10th edition of the Board Diversity Index has been published to report on the progress towards diversity and inclusion on the boards of ASX 300 listed companies. However, the findings indicate that little progress has been made since their last report.

user iconGrace Robbie 09 April 2024 Big Law
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The 2024 Board Diversity Index, released by Watermark Search International and the Governance Institute of Australia at the beginning of the month, provides insights into the progress made by ASX 300 listed companies in enhancing the diversity and inclusion of their boards.

The Governance Institute of Australia revealed that “the Board Diversity Index is the only comprehensive analysis of Australian boards that measures diversity across Australia’s top 300 ASX-listed companies in five key areas: gender, cultural background, age, skills/experience, tenure and independence”.

The report revealed minimal changes in the composition of ASX 300 boards compared to previous years and described them as “stale, male and pale”.


The 10th edition revealed that there has been a slight increase in the number of board seats occupied by women in ASX 200–300 companies, rising from 31 per cent in 2022 to 32 per cent in 2024.

While this slight progress is positive, the report also unveiled that “13 of the top ASX 300 boards” still lack female representation. This shows minimal improvement from last year’s findings, where there were “15 boards with no women”.

Pauline Vamos, chair of the Governance Institute of Australia, expressed concern about the data uncovered by the report, indicating that ASX 300 boards are not tapping into border talent pools, which is troubling.

“The recruitment of directors has become trapped in a cycle of repetition and reliance on the same outdated processes, and skills matrices no longer suited to contemporary demands.

“It is imperative that we break free from this inertia, innovating our approach to sourcing talent and redefining the criteria for leadership excellence in today’s dynamic environment,” Vamos commented.

David Evans, the managing partner of Watermark Search International, suggested: “Companies should also consider executives who have reported to a board because they can bring useful information about how organisations can serve their customers, employees and markets more effectively.”

In more positive news, the Board Diversity Index report discovered that the “representation of women on ASX 300 boards has risen to 36 per cent” from 35 per cent in 2023. Furthermore, boards are making progress towards achieving the 40:40:20 rule, with 123 boards meeting this target.

Examining another measure of diversity covered in the report, it was found that only “6.6 per cent” of ASX 300 directors have a non-European background, encompassing countries such as South Africa, the USA, China, India or Japan.

Additionally, the report revealed that 9 per cent of directors were from non-Anglo-Celtic backgrounds, there are “four openly LGBTQ+ directors and the number of First Nations directors has not increased and “still remains as four”.

The Asian Australian Lawyers Association (AALA) responded to the findings from the 2024 Board Diversity Index, stating it is “very disappointed that the level of cultural diversity on Australia’s ASX 300 boards has stalled over the past decade”.

Belinda Wong, AALA national vice-president, commented: “The levels of multicultural, First Nations, LGBTIQA+ and disabled representation on ASX 100, 200 and 300 boards are disappointingly low. The composition of Australian boards does not represent the diversity of the talent in the communities that they serve.

“Multicultural communities, which include AALA’s diverse membership of over 1,000 members, are highly qualified and aspire to serve our Australian community in roles where we can best utilise our skills, lived experience, cultural backgrounds and linguistic capabilities.

“By failing to raise the representation of multicultural communities on Australian boards, our institutions risk succumbing to inequitable and fixed expectations, where stubbornly monocultural boards oversee an increasingly diverse workforce to which they bear little resemblance.”

Katrina Rathie, AALA NSW patron, highlighted how these “entrenched structural issues affect access to opportunities” and can lead ASX 300 boards to appoint directors “based on old-school networks and ties”.

Rathie stated: “Forward-thinking and enlightened chairs and their recruiters need to look more widely to find and meet talented candidates from a variety of multicultural backgrounds who are hungry for opportunities to shine. I know so many amazingly skilled culturally diverse men and women just waiting for the call that never comes.”

Matt Floro, AALA national president, emphasised that leadership appointments should “be made on merit”; however, he underscored the importance of ensuring that we do not “entrench a hereditary meritocracy, drawn from a narrow cultural, socioeconomic, and professional hue”.