There still aren’t enough women on Australian boards, and it’s not because of a lack of talent. That’s the message from the Australian Institute of Company Directors which released a report today outlining the progress on board diversity across the ASX 200 companies.

According to the report, 2018 is off to a good start in terms of female board appointments with women accounting for 47 per cent of ASX 200 board appointments in the first two months of the year. Overall women now account for 26.7 per cent of ASX 200 boards.

The AICD has a target of 30 per cent female representation on ASX 200 boards by the end of 2018. That goal suffered a setback following a sluggish 2017 where female board appointments fell to 36 per cent.

The latest figures are encouraging but only reflective of a small portion of 2018, according to AICD Chairman Elizabeth Proust.

“We’ll need sustained momentum of this kind if we are to reach our goal of 30 per cent female representation across the ASX 200 by the end of the year,” Proust said.

“The boards of our largest companies have 10 months to prove to the community that they take the issue of gender diversity seriously.”

The number of ASX 200 boards without any women is now five, down from 14 at this time last year. The five ASX boards without any female representation are:

  • ARB Corporation
  • Ardent Leisure Group Ltd
  • Pilbara Minerals Ltd
  • Speedcast International Ltd
  • TPG Telecom

Tackling ‘Tokenism’

Many ASX boards also still have a problem with “tokenism”, Proust said. Tokenism is the practice of making symbolic but ineffective appointments of women, and it’s becoming an “insidious” problem for Australian boards, according to Proust.

“I am still frustrated by the stagnation in appointment rates by the 62 boards that believe a token woman is enough to achieve the benefits of diversity,” Proust writes in the report.

The overall target of 30 per cent representation is designed to address the tokenism problem. According to Proust, 30 per cent is the “critical mass” where female board members stop being seen as “outsiders or representing a ‘womens point of view’.”

Proust said arguments of a lack of supply of suitable female board members are “fallacious” and research has shown there is an ample number female candidates. The real problem is demand, Proust says.

“An insufficient number of boards perceiving gender diversity as a strategic imperative,” according to Proust, citing research on gender diversity research.

Thinning out the “fat middle”

One almost immediate option for ASX boards to help reach the 30 per cent target is a thinning out of the “fat middle”, according to the AICD report.

“The AICD has identified over 20 boards from that cohort with a number of male directors who have served longer than the ASX Corporate Governance Council’s recommended tenure term. One way of quickly reaching 30 per cent is to replace each of these men with a woman,” the authors said.

This “fat middle” and the theme for this year’s 2018 International Women’s Day – #pressforprogress has prompted the AICD to launch a ‘100 day sprint’ to focus advocacy efforts on this group.

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