Fortescue Metals announce first female director

22 Feb 2013

Fortescue Metals has today announced its first female non-executive director, Elizabeth Gaines, ending its outlier position as the only ASX50 company with no women on its board.

"We're completely non-gender specific but we're announcing a wonderful woman to the board tomorrow," Andrew Forrest, founder and chairman of Fortescue Metals told Women's Agenda last night prior to naming the appointment this morning.

"We're very, very specific on skills at Fortescue, and not just on getting people who seem high profile, but people who have the specific skills that we believe the board needs."

Women's Agenda contacted Fortescue two weeks ago to ask about the lack of women on its board, and what skills they were looking for in their next appointment.

According to Fortescue's 2012 Annual Report, women make up 23% of the workforce and 16.7% of senior executives. That 16.7% was Deidre Willmott. However, she recently left the company.

No woman has sat on the Fortescue board since the company launched in 2005.

An announcement lodged with the ASX this morning named Gaines, who is COO, CFO and executive director or the Jetset Travel Group, as a new Non-Executive Director. It also announced the appointment of Peter Meurs as an Executive Director. Meurs is the director development of Fortescue Metals Group.

"Gaines adds to the Board's extensive international experience in all aspects of financial and commercial management. Her exceptional leadership record in business, accounting and financial discipline across a range of industries, will be invaluable as we ramp up our production to 155mtpa, with the addition of the low cost Solomon mines and operations," Forrest said in the Fortescue statement.

The current board at Fortescue Metals is made up of Andrew Forrest, Executive Director and CEO Neville Power, Deputy Chairmen Herb Elliot and seven other non-executive directors: Mark Banaba, Geoff Brayshaw, Owen Hegarty, Cao Huiquan, Geoff Raby, Graeme Rowley and Herbert Scruggs.

Prior to today's announcement, Women on Boards CEO Claire Braund told Women's Agenda Fortescue had some catching up to do on board gender diversity. "We note that the board has 10 members, so there is no lack of available places for well-credentialed women – and it is not as thought there would be a lack of contenders," she said. "You would think a company of that size, which tries to influence government policy so stridently and is clearly very important to the Australian economy would be slightly better in touch with modern practices."

Fortescue has previously demonstrated its capacity for executing diversity strategies in its engagement of indigenous workers.

Rose Powell

Rose Powell is a journalist with Women's Agenda sister publication StartUpSmart.

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