Women in Australia today remain under-represented on corporate boards and in executive management. The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) 2008 Australian Census of Women in Leadership indicated that the number of women on boards and in executive management positions has declined since 2006, and in some cases reverted to pre-2004 levels with Australia trailing the USA, UK, South Africa and New Zealand. According to the 2008 EOWA Census, the number of women executive managers in the ASX200 declined to 10.7% from 12% in 2006 and 11.4% in 2004. The number of companies with no women executive managers increased to 45.5% from 39.5% in 2006. The increase of women in line management roles observed from 2003 to 2006 (4.7% compared to 7.4%) reversed and declined to pre-2004 levels (5.9%).
The 2008 EOWA Census of Women in Leadership also indicated that the number of women on boards declined. Only 8.3% of board directors of the ASX top 200 publicly listed companies were women, a decline from 8.7% in 2006. At the time of the census, women held only four CEO positions and only 10.7% of executive management positions in the surveyed companies, compared to 12% in 2006. In the 2009 World Economic Forum Global Gender Index, Australia retained its position as equal number one for women’s educational attainment, but 50th in terms of women’s workforce participation.
These figures indicate that the “glass ceiling” is prevalent not just at the highest points of organizations, but on each level of the career labyrinth necessitating that the pool of potential candidates for board positions needs to be addressed at every rung of the ladder so that women can strategically negotiate their stages of career engagement and development.
To meet targets at pivotal leadership points in an organisation, there needs to be provision for a range of measures for women, including access to challenging career opportunities, mentoring, leadership training, negotiating and networking, work/life balance and child care. These initiatives, taking into account the dual role women have as carers and workers, need to be accessible by women from early on in a woman’s career to contribute to subsequent stages of her career development, giving her the opportunity to be in the feeder position for a board position.
Policies need to address the recognition of merit of women at senior management levels who have been side stepped for board positions AND also the development of merit through women’s career cycles.
The Norwegian model which enforced that publicly listed companies meet targets of 40% women’s representation on boards within two years, and quotas within another two years, or face deregistration if they failed to meet the quotas, must be considered in light of its successful outcomes; the proportion of female board members increased from 7% in 2003 to 39% in July 2008, and in 93% of publicly listed companies women held 40% of board positions according to The Norwegian National Business register.
The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) Council released its final changes to Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations in June 2010. Its recommendations which commence on 1 January 2011 include that entities listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) disclose in their annual report:
- Their achievement against gender objectives set by their board; and
- The proportion of women on the board, in senior management and employed throughout the whole organisation.
- The guidance commentary will also be changed to recommend that boards:
- Determine the appropriate committee for recommending strategies to address board diversity, considering diversity in succession planning, and having a charter that regularly reviews the proportion of women at all levels in the company;
- Disclose the mix of skills and diversity they are looking for in their membership; and
- Ensure that there is an accurate and not misleading impression of the relative participation of women and men in the workplace.
It also recommends that ASX-listed entities establish a remuneration committee comprised of a majority of independent directors, chaired by an independent director, and with at least three members. This committee will have responsibility for reviewing and providing recommendations to the board on remuneration by gender.
Whilst these changes are to be commended, it is necessary that outcomes from these changes to the ASX Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations are evaluated within a time frame so as to move forward decisive measures for equal gender participation for women on boards and in line management positions.
The Australian Centre for Leadership for Women (CLW) calls for each candidate:
- to ensure that if there continues to be an under-representation of women on boards and in senior executive roles, from 2013, mandatory gender quotas of 40% for boards must be introduced on ASX publicly listed companies with penalties for failing to meet quotas within a specified period of time
- to ensure a minimum target of 40% representation of each gender on all Australian government Boards and in executive management by 2013 to be reported annually
- to ensure that in ASX publicly listed companies and in the Australian Public Service that women have access to leadership positions through each stage of their career progression so that they move through the ranks to the most senior levels of their organisations alongside the men, and that this is to be reported annually
- to outline the frameworks they will implement to dismantle the systemic discrimination that gives rise to the under-representation of women in leadership positions in relation to issues of inequities in hiring, promotion, tenure, salaries, training and mentoring, workplace culture, child care and flexibility.
The Australian Centre for Leadership for Women (ACLW) Federal Election Platform 2010