A prominent company director has called for companies who do not promote women to board and executive positions to be named and shamed. Kevin McCann, chairman of Origin Energy, has called on the Australian Securities Exchange to create guidelines that would require listed companies to detail female participation in the top echelons of management.
“Frankly, I think we are going to have to name and shame,” McCann told the Australian Financial Review.
The calls come as pressure grows to introduce a quota system that would set down in legislation the level of female representation at executive and board level.
While many in the business community are way off the idea of legislated quotas (this is hardly surprising given entrepreneurs typically react to the threat of more regulation with horror), the founder for the Centre for Leadership for Women, Diann Rodgers-Healey, says the time has come.
“I think the entrenched perceptions of women are probably polluting the business culture,” she says. “The quota approach needs to go ahead. We’ve tried the soft approach for 20 of 30 years and it hasn’t worked. We have to legislate.”
She says data shows the percentage of women in executive positions has fallen from 7.5% in 2006 to 5.9%, despite the fact more women are graduating from university than ever before.
Quotas have been introduced in other countries with success. For example, legislation in Norway was introduced stipulating women should hold 40% of board and executive positions. Six years later, women make up 41% of boards.
Rodgers-Healey would like to see any quota system complemented with the introduction of career advancement measures for women “further down the ladder”. These could be measures around mentoring, improved workplace flexibility and encouraging mothers to return to the workforce.
“I think quotas must happen but it needs to be done in a comprehensive way so we are looking at women further down the ladder. You can’t just focus on women at the top.”
Diann Rodgers-Healey is not supportive of the idea of naming and shaming, and instead supports efforts by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency to create a system that ranks company boards according to their attitudes towards women. She says this would allow companies that achieve a low ranking to take constructive steps to improve.
Push to name and shame companies that fail to encourage female directors and executives. Friday 23 October 2009
James Thomson, SmartCompany