No all-male ASX 200 boards an important milestone, but progress is still needed

No all-male ASX 200 boards an important milestone, but progress is still needed

31 August 2021 By Jerome Doraisamy

While the fact that there are now women sitting on every ASX 200 board has “well and truly busted” the myth that Australia doesn’t have talented and qualified women to sit atop companies, parity is still a way off.

Last week, the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) reported that “for the first time in history”, there are no all-male boards at Australia’s top 200 companies.

This marks a significant improvement from recent years – AICD began reporting quarterly on the number of women on ASX 200 boards in 2015, at which time there were 28 all-male boards.

AICD chief executive and managing director Angus Armour proclaimed it a “historical milestone” for Australia, calling it a “great shift in the approach to diversity by our largest organisations has occurred in recent years”.

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“This is testament to the leadership and commitment of ASX chairs and directors, as well as the numerous groups who have pushed for change and ensured that gender diversity remains a priority for organisations,” he continued.

“We want to ensure this success is maintained. It is important for all chairs to continue to prioritise diversity in the search for directors.”

As the recent Towards Board Gender Parity report by the University of Queensland Business School highlighted, AICD noted in a statement, Australia is one of few countries to achieve 30 per cent women on the boards of its top companies without mandated quotas or government intervention.

30% Club Australia chair Nicola Wakefield Evans posited: “When the push for gender diversity on the ASX 200 began, there was a view that Australia did not offer the talent pool of qualified women to achieve the targets we set.”

“With nearly 500 ASX 200 board positions now held by women, that myth is well and truly busted – the calibre of women on our leading boards is exceedingly high, from those who are well established to emerging directors achieving their first listed role,” she said.

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Reflecting on the milestone, Governance Institute of Australia CEO Megan Motto said that “after so many years of discussion, investment and momentum, we are now seeing a significant shift in women directors being appointed to boards”.

As the Board Diversity Index (published by Governance Institute and Watermark Search International) highlighted earlier in August, Ms Motto reflected, on the current trajectory, “there will be no ASX 300 companies without a female director by 2026”.

“Now the key challenge is to ensure companies keep up the positive action and strategies to ensure this next milestone is reached – and to also ensure greater gender diversity in senior management,” she submitted.

Freelance GC and legal influencer Anna Lozynski agreed that the milestone is important and “makes for a wonderful headline”, but noted that, upon closer inspection, men still outnumber women in senior leadership roles and most women on boards are not in chairing roles, both here and abroad.

Referencing the aforementioned University of Queensland report, Ms Lozynski questioned why progress in increasing female representation on ASX 200 boards has been “so slow”.

“This trend is echoed in law land – for the first time in history, we have more Australian female practitioners, but that’s not reflected in executive and leadership tables. There’s less women in legal tech too, and far less women VCs,” she said.

When asked how best legal team leaders can push for change, she suggested using one’s influence “more consciously than ever before”.

“Speak up – whether you have influence or not, but definitely if you have influence. Be a voice and advocate for another woman who is not (yet) in the room. Be open about one’s biases (because we all have them) and have strategies to address them. Ensure our actions speak consistently with our words (or our D&I policies and strategies),” she outlined.

Ms Lozynski spoke on The Lawyers Weekly Show earlier this year about how, for women lawyers, social media can be an “antidote” to their lack of visibility.

No all-male ASX 200 boards an important milestone, but progress is still needed
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