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Women on boards: sick of hearing about it yet?

/ Dec 05, 2012 10:00AM / Print / ()

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is losing patience with lack of women's participation on boards

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is losing patience, and I think many of us here in Australia can relate.

She's fed up with the still small number of women on European boards. "With more women than men taking their final school exams, more women than men successfully completing their studies, nobody can tell me that not even roughly as many women as men can take over management responsibility," she said overnight.

And yet here in Australia and across many parts of the world, that's still the case.

As we heard last week from EOWA's census on women in leadership, women fill just 9.2% of the board positions available on the ASX 500, as well as just 9.2% of these companies' senior executive positions.

EOWA director Helen Conway at the time shared her concern of a limited opportunity to try and fix the problem before it gets put in the too hard basket -- when companies declare they sort of gave it a go. Talked about it a lot. Put it a few programs. It didn't work. Let's move on.

There is certainly a risk of fatigue when it comes to women on boards, one that I couldn't help thinking about while reading a comment in the Sydney Morning Herald today from a 17-year old who said he's sick of hearing about the environment and understands why so many young people no longer consider it the most pressing concern because, "Tony Abbott has been going on such a tirade about the carbon tax."

People tire of issues quickly. No matter how important -- and in the cases of climate change, catastrophic -- such issues actually are.

But then as we've found on the ASX 200, continued talk can spur action. Since seeing little improvement in the number of women on the boards of ASX 200 companies in 2010, a number of initiatives -- including the ASX's diversity guidelines and a range of mentoring programs -- has seen some, albeit not all that much, movement.

Merkel maintains that while governments should leave it to companies to take action on the issue, she's still open to regulation should companies fail to do so. Many leaders in Australia agree.

Really, it's companies that have a limited window of opportunity to do something about board diversity.

After all, what happens when the likes of Angels Merkel and her counterparts around the world really do lose their patience on the matter?

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