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Yes, we need more women on government boards. Here's why.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has set gender quotas for appointments to government boards — meaning that board appointments in the state must be at least 50 per cent women. His announcement  of the move follows the release earlier this month of Women on Boards’ 2015 Boardroom Diversity Index — the results of which were nothing short of staggering, as UN Women director Julie McKay writes for Mamamia today.

Imagine if rather than celebrating the companies that have appointed one woman to their board as a marker of progress towards gender equality, we were recognising companies for reaching gender parity.

Imagine if rather than celebrating when a company sets a 25 percent target for women in leadership, we were celebrating the companies who had committed to reaching gender parity within five years.

This month, Women on Boards released its 2015 Boardroom Diversity Index and to be honest, the results are staggering.

Despite slow progress, out of the ASX300, 81 companies still have no women on their boards. In the ASX100, there are five ‘stag’ companies.

It simply isn’t good enough. And for me, it is time that we had a conversation about how to drive change, when awareness raising and good intention simply isn’t resulting the changes necessary.

Julie McKay, Executive Director of the Australian National Committee for UN Women.

Why are women on boards important?

There is significant evidence that diverse boards are more effective and have stronger financial performance. Credit Suisse’s Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance report (2013) found that companies with more than one woman had delivered on average, higher returns, lower gearing and better average growth over the last six years.

Women on boards bring different perspectives and leadership styles, which even men who have resisted the need to have women on boards reflect positively on, once the chance has happened. While it is difficult to measure, it is also understood that being able to see women in senior leadership roles is likely to increase the retention of female staff in the organisation.

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To activate effective strategy and governance, it isn’t a stretch to understand that the Board needs to reflect the customer and employee base. The buying power of women is undeniable and it doesn’t make sense to ignore such a significant market.

Finally, because of the way our society is structured and the systemic bias against women that has existed in our workplaces, women remain underutilised in the senior leadership and board ranks.

“At a national level, it is time to seriously consider quotas,” Julie McKay suggests.

Companies who recognise this, can access a pool of deeply well qualified women – who will only drive value for the organisation.

How do we affect change?

From my perspective, at a national level, it is time to seriously consider quotas. Norway has done it and more recently, Germany has enacted legislation requiring big businesses to have women on their boards.

I don’t believe that on their own, quotas will effectively drive behavioural change, but my generation are literally going to die waiting for the progress to be made without them. Given that there does not appear to be Government will to adopt temporary special measures in Australia, I thought it would be useful to reflect on some of the potential other drivers of change.

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Consider a company like CabCharge Australia, which supplies services to most large businesses in Australia. Major businesses use Cabcharges’ services including some who are very progressive on gender inclusion measures. Continuing to use the services of a company who in 2015 have not appointed a woman to their Board seems to me to be in contradiction with the values of diversity and inclusion.

I imagine that getting letters from the CEOs of major firms expressing deep concern and noting that if the issue is not rectified within 6 months, their company would close the account, might spur some action. Sadly, my organisation’s account won’t be big enough to affect change, but you heard it here first.

If in six months, Cabcharge Australia has not appointed a woman to their board, the National Committee for UN Women will be closing our account.

In its publically available Diversity Policy, Cabcharge states that it ‘recognises that diversity can help facilitate the rise of fresh ideas and approaches which in turn may contribute to a more efficient or effective business’. Would you invest in a company which recognises efficiency measures but doesn’t act on them?

women on boardsJulie McKay: “It is time that we had a conversation about how to drive change, when awareness raising and good intention simply isn’t resulting the changes necessary.

So the second action that I believe is needed, is far greater consideration by investors – big and small – about whether it makes sense to invest in companies who are by definition not attracting the best people and not benefitting from the diversity dividend of having people who see risk and opportunity differently, sitting around the Board table. I don’t mean to focus too much on Cab Charge – it is just one of the 81 companies in the ASX300 to still have all male boards.

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I think as individuals, we often think that these problems are too big for us to solve. I can guarantee that we would create change, if we each pledged not to order Dominos Pizza until their Board had gender diversity. Losing market share is a sure fire way to drive change in corporate Australia.

Each of us has a role to play in leading this agenda and I hope that you will consider taking one or more of the steps that I am about to propose:

  • If your company has a CabCharge account, or procures goods or services from any of the 81 businesses that is listed on the Index as having no women on their Board, request that your CEO write to them and reconsider the use of their services if this is not addressed within six months
  • Review your investments and direct your financial advisor not to invest your hard earned savings into companies that are not benefiting from the gender dividend
  • Consider your own purchasing decisions. Let Mcmillan Shakespeare know that you won’t lease through them if they don’t appoint women to their board. Refuse to order Dominos until they address the issue. Use social media to share your concerns with friends and colleagues.

These actions are very easy for each of us to take. They are small.

But the sum of small actions is change – and it is time for change.

We want to be the most prosperous and productive country we can be – and continuing to lock women out of boardrooms is getting in the way.

Julie McKay is the Executive Director of the Australian National Committee for UN Women.

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