I met a man recently who offered me great hope for future female leadership. I was referred to him by a female director of an ASX company. She described him as someone who truly understood the value of board diversity and the important role that talented women could play in the success of major corporations.
Joshua Smith, the executive director at JWS Consulting, is focused on delivering women into leadership roles and onto boards of ASX companies – a pursuit based on the belief that women make great leaders and add enormous value to boards. It’s also proven to be a commercially successful strategy for his business as the placement of successful women has resulted in repeat business, solid relationships and enduring trust. His biggest challenge is finding enough opportunities for all of the talented women he has uncovered through the years.
“I can fill a shortlist of directors for any ASX company with women and any one of them would do a great job,” he said. “It’s often hard for a Chair to choose between them, such is the calibre.”
This is actually a big deal considering the depressing state of gender equity in the roles that can really make a difference in the corporate world. It indicates that the problem isn’t, in fact, the lack of women in the leadership pipeline as is often the excuse.
The current statistics are dismal. Only 15.6% of directors on ASX 200 boards are women whilst 23.5% of all ASX 200 companies are yet to appoint a single woman. There are only seven (or 3.5%) female CEOs of ASX 200 companies.
I was once told by a female board recruiter that change is more likely to occur when the Chair has an appetite for risk. Her experience with recommending women for ASX 200 Board positions was that women were still largely considered a risk.
And yet a study conducted by consultants Zenger and Folkman that was published in Harvard Business Review found that women make better leaders than men, so where is the justification for the perception of risk?
Their research identified 16 competencies that top leaders display and found that women were better than men in 12 of them, equal in three and only slightly behind for one.
The competencies that women outshone men in were:
- Takes initiative
- Practices self-development
- Displays high integrity and honesty
- Drives for results
- Develops others
- Inspires and motivates others
- Builds relationships
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Establishes stretch goals
- Champions change
- Solves problems and analyses issues
- Communicates powerfully and prolifically
The competencies where men and women were equal:
- Connects the group to the outside world
- Technical or professional expertise
The competency in which men were deemed better:
- Develops a strategic perspective
Source: “A Study in Leadership: Women Do It Better Than Men,” Zenger Folkman, 2012.
The corporate world is running out of excuses for its poor gender diversity showing. It is time for the flagging ASX companies to appoint women to help resurrect their fortunes. Aside from anything else they owe it to their shareholders.