‘We’ve lost momentum’: Listed companies urged to do more on gender diversity

The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) boss says top listed companies have “lost momentum” in appointing women to board positions as its latest report into gender diversity shows the rate of women on ASX200 companies’ boards has fallen since last year.

AICD chief executive Angus Armour said the Gender Diversity Progress Report for July to September released on Thursday should serve as a “wake-up” call to directors, investors and shareholders. The report shows the rate at which women have been appointed to boards has fallen 13.3 percentage points from 45 per cent in 2018, to 31.7 per cent in 2019.

“Australia is not lacking for talented and experienced women, and the profile of female directors being appointed to their first ASX200 boards over the past two years is evidence of this,” Mr Armour said.

“We are disappointed that at the end of 2018, we thought we had momentum…but there is a clear loss of momentum.

“Boards struggling with gender diversity must challenge themselves and make commitments to do better.”

He noted that 30 ASX50 companies and 15 in the ASX20 had reached the 30 per cent benchmark, saying smaller companies lagged.

Mr Armour said while the 30 per cent target was positive, the “end game” was a model of 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men and 20 per cent of seats unreserved.

The report shows as of September 30 this year, companies such as Woolworths, Medibank and Commonwealth Bank of Australia had five female directors, the highest number.

Meanwhile, seven ASX200 companies did not have any women on their boards, an increase of three companies since June. They include internet and phone company TPG, investment and superannuation platform HUB24 and health imaging IT provider Pro Medicus.

Last year, Australian companies narrowly missed the AICD’s target of 30 per cent women on ASX200 boards, hitting 29.7 per cent, but results fell to 29.5 per cent in Thursday’s report.

Chair of the Australian Chapter for The 30% Club Nicola Wakefield-Evans, whose organisation lobbies for greater gender diversity on boards, said the results were “damning”.

“Just 16.6 per cent of new directors appointed to these boards were women, clearly Australia has a long way to go,” she said. “We need to ensure that from when companies list, the boards comprise of at least 30 per cent female directors.”

The company said it would send letters to the chairmen of all ASX 300 companies encouraging them to commit to at least 30 per cent female directors on their boards by the end of 2021.