Gender diversity on Australian boards – all sizzle while the sausage burns

The paucity of women on boards and other leadership roles across Australia is a symptom of a much deeper problem.

While government and the top end of town pat themselves on the back because of the sizzle of the ASX 200 having 29.7% female directors as at February 2019, the sausage of systemic gendered leadership discrimination across Australia is burning unattended.

After all if 29.7% of ASX 200 board seats are taken by women, 70.3% aren’t. And that is nothing to write home about.

Neither is the fact that three ASX 200 boards have no women. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

The real issue

The real issue – the problem that must be addressed before any sustainable progress can be made toward gender equity in business leadership roles – is Australia’s corporate and business culture, which keeps women off boards both directly and by restricting their access to the executive and leadership roles that are feeder positions to directorships and board seats.

Systemic corporate bias

Here are some examples of systemic biases, conscious and unconscious, that obstruct women’s participation on boards and in executive roles in Australia:

  • the culture of mateship across Australian boards
  • the lack of transparency in board appointment processes
  • the failure in many cases to articulate and assess applicants against clear selection criteria
  • the tendency of boards to recruit from restricted pools of applicants that are already known to, or referred by, their members
  • board members’ tendency to “appoint in their own image”
  • the fact that significantly fewer males than females see the lack of gender diversity on boards as a problem
  • organisational expectations of a straight-line, always-available, geographically mobile career model
  • the fact that board feeder positions – senior corporate and business roles with line management responsibilities – are predominantly filled by men
  • the lack of support for women who wish to continue to build their careers after having a child, or taking on caring responsibilities; for example, personally tailored return to work programs, telecommuting and the provision of high quality, affordable child care
  • the lack of high level female sponsors to advocate for other women as board members and senior executives.

This is despite the fact that evidence has proven over and over again that having women in leadership positions and on boards is good for business.

Not only by leading to improved financial and corporate results, but because having a critical mass of women on business and corporate boards leads to improved governance, enhanced public perception of the organisation and better employee attraction and retention.

Quotas – not all good news

The introduction of quotas has improved the gender balance on some corporate Australian boards, and will continue to do so in the short term. But the introduction of quotas has also encouraged lip-service, forced compliance, and questioning about the worthiness of incumbents appointed to meet quotas.

And the way forward is….?

I’m glad you asked!

The way forward is for Australia’s corporate leaders and business owners to seriously commit to changing their staid and exclusionary leadership culture.  Until then, the best that will be achieved is the continued implementation  of  band-aid solutions which mask the obvious symptoms, but do little to stem the growth of the real problem in the long term.

But in the meantime…?

Despite all the systemic and unconscious biases they have to overcome, women continue to kick goals in the boardroom and the executive suite.

Which is where I come in.

I’ve helped hundreds of people achieve board and executive roles since 2007, and if you’re a woman looking to build or grow your board or executive career, I’d love to hear from you.

To discuss your own personalised board or career strategy, call me on 0437 005 620, or connect via my contact page.

Here’s to making your career work for you,


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