Accusations of board ‘tokenism’ not fair: Helen Conway
Readers talk back
Must reads site wide
As the momentum for change in corporate Australia results in more women being appointed to boards, a new argument is being touted to diminish the very real initiatives of business and government, and the calibre of the women themselves.
Yesterday's business establishment has had to abandon its argument that women are underqualified, given that for the past 25 years more than 50 per cent of Australian university graduates have been female. The new word being levelled now, is ''tokenism''.
I take issue with the view that corporate Australia is so cynical that appointing a woman to a board is simply a token gesture of ticking corporate governance boxes. Organisations across the country are coming to grips with the facts that the talent pool is wide, merit is gender blind and gender equality leads to better organisational performance.
Some individual men, vying for a board seat, prefer to couch their competition as ''tokenism''.
Numerous studies have highlighted the role of existing boardroom recruitment practices in perpetuating gender bias.
In the ideal world, recruitment specialists looking to identify new boardroom talent could take the lead from the television show, The Voice. In a blind audition, the recruiters would not be able to tap into their existing networks, and would rely instead on resumes stripped of gender identifying features. No names. No single sex high schools. No award of a rugby blue at university.
Instead candidates would be judged on their professional achievements and their academic qualifications. When the selected interview pool presented, there would be many more women in the room. Far from being token, these women are well able to argue their case for appointment, and stand on their own two feet.
At the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workforce Agency we are gaining insight into the current state of affairs in boardrooms and the executive suite as we finalise the data for our upcoming Australian Census of Women in Leadership to be launched on 27 November 2012. This is the tenth year since the inception of this research, and for the first time we have extended it to look at the ASX 500.
In a report this year, McKinsey & Company found that across the globe, companies which had achieved a good proportion of women in senior positions had put in place ''critical mass initiatives''. These companies had the highest level of management commitment, monitored womens representation, and sought to address the mindsets of both male and female employees.
When companies, used to auditing their business activities, audit their own hiring, retention and remuneration practices, and evaluate the flexibility of their workplace and their corporate culture, barriers to a gender equal workforce are readily identified. Companies can bring about transformation by setting measurable targets for gender diversity.