I was recently honoured to be inducted onto the inaugural Board of The Global Women’s Project along with six other wonderful women. As Chair, I would like to share a few insights into why I think it is vital to get women ‘on board’, and the positive change that can be made in the way companies and organisations view diversity.
While I was amused to hear that there are more men named Peter than women in Chief Executive or Chair positions at ASX 200 companies, I can’t say that it is altogether surprising. Over the 5 years that I have been part of the corporate and finance sectors, I have discovered that there are very few women in senior decision-making roles. In my relatively short lifetime, I’ve also had a staggering number of conversations with women who have been angered, hurt, and sadly discouraged by the experience of systemic gender inequity.
Poor representation of women in the boardrooms and executive suites of Australian companies has long been a concern for leaders in corporate governance and there is now emerging a groundswell of positive change. For example, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) has been running a gender diversity campaign that explicitly aims to have women comprise 30% of all boards in ASX 200 companies within the next three years. This is a bold and necessary initiative. Here’s why:
- Narrowing the gap between male and female employment rates would have huge implications for the global economy – in Australia, research shows that it would boost our GDP by 11% and the level of economic activity by 20%.
- There’s a strong positive correlation between a critical mass of women leaders and outstanding business performance.
- Gender disparity in senior leadership roles perpetuates existing stereotypes about the role and capability of women, both at work and in wider society, and exacerbates gender pay inequity.
People often think quotas lead to ‘tokenism’ and it is true that participation of women in senior management is skewed towards areas of lesser influence and with lower promotion opportunities. However, the introduction of quotas has generated healthy debate and led companies and policy makers to consider other measures to narrow the gender gap. Getting women on boards may not be sufficient for getting them into key decision-making roles, but it is a start.
This is not because women are somehow inherently more talented than men, or that they necessarily have leadership and decision-making skills that men lack. Rather, it shows that organisations that identify and promote female talent into leadership roles have cultures that enable them to recognise talent regardless of who has it, and make good use of it.
Boards need to be multi-skilled and have competencies that match the strategic direction of the organisation to maximise performance. This means that having a wider array of professional skills, industry backgrounds and life experiences around the Board table can only contribute to more representative decision-making. Research also shows that one is not enough– women must be present in sufficient numbers at senior levels to drive cultural change and better business results. Well, The Global Women’s Project has seven! We might need to look at balancing ourselves out in the opposite direction!
We are interested in demonstrating leadership features that best represent the vision and mission of our organisation- features which include having a nationally and culturally diverse Chair, and having directors of varying cultural heritage, as well as mix of skills across the Board. After all, boards are responsible for ensuring the highest standards of organisational and financial governance of the organisation. It is important that they remain objective and make decisions that are sound and well-informed. Gender diversity is merely one form of diversity that Boards must have to best accomplish this.
While quotas and campaigns are crucial for addressing issues of inequity and serve to highlight women’s underrepresentation in positions of leadership, female directors must be evaluated on the other gaps they fill for the organisation.
Will you join us in advocating for more women on boards? Take a selfie and be part of the growing movement of change makers who are determined to #GetWomenOnBoard.