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Senior executive pipeline too narrow to get women on boards

/ Nov 27, 2012 4:12AM / Print / ()

Senior executive pipeline too narrow to get women on boards

Relying on the current pool of senior executives to fill future directorships is a problematic strategy for getting more women on boards, given almost two thirds of ASX 500 companies are still without women in their senior executive ranks.

According to the results of the 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership released today, women account for just 9.2% of ASX 500 executives and only 12 CEOs are female. Just 9.2% of ASX 500 board positions are held by women and women occupy only 13 chair positions, the survey based of annual reports as of April 2012 found.

"These executive ranks are important, they show we just don't have the pipeline", Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency director Helen Conway said at a Monday press briefing on the results, prior to the study's official launch by Governor General Quentin Bryce at a business lunch today.

Conway said there's some good news to celebrate when it comes to women on the boards of ASX 200 organisations, much of which she credits to the Australian Institute of Company Directors' continued campaign to highlight the issue. Women now comprise 15.2% of ASX 200 board positions, according to real-time data from the AICD. When EOWA conducted its first Census back in 2002, that figure was just 8.2%.

"We think some of the focus the AICD has put on these boards has borne fruit," said Conway. "We wanted to see what it looks like if you don't put that similar focus on other companies ... Fact is, however, when you go to the 500 that figure goes down to 9.2%."

Conway hopes that by more than doubling the scope of the census and covering the ASX 500 for the first time, companies under the expanded spotlight may be spurred, or pressured, to take action.

She said change requires companies to establish numerical targets and shift their cultures to being more inclusive of flexible work arrangements and flexible careers. Affordable childcare is also critical, but it's flexibility where companies can really find solutions.

"Family impacts the workplace. It's not a woman's problems. It's a societal issue, so employers must look at it," she said.

Conway repeated her stance that gender diversity targets should be linked to remuneration. "It's crude measure, but if people are really serious about it they'll adopt measures that work," she said.

"We're not asking people to achieve things overnight. What we're saying is start the journey in an appropriate way," she said.

"Frankly, if employers don't embrace these, the question of quotas remains and that may be the outcome of the future."

Research sponsor ANZ has set public targets since 2006 and currently boasts a female senior executive figure of 24%. According to group managing director of HR Susie Babani, making a public commitment to targets helped ensure those at the top saw the issue as a continued priority.

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