Business fails on gender equity policies

Business is always telling governments, and the rest of us, that Australia would perform much better if we and our rulers took their advice.

There would be fewer and lower taxes while ‘flexible’ freewheeling industrial relations policies and much less regulation are all common claims about how Australia could be improved.

While all these assertions are contestable, to put it mildly, there is one very glaring difference between businesses when compared to government – gender equality.

Recently the Australian Institute of Company Directors, while admitting more progress was needed, said the AICD Gender Diversity Report showed that the top 20 ASX companies have 40% of board seats now filled by women. However, there are 44 companies on the ASX300 (15%) which have only one or no women on their boards with the number of all male boards doubling from six to 11.

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive Women (CEW) Senior Executive Census has produced seven years of data on the actual progress of women’s representations in the senior leadership in Australia’s top companies.

Their conclusion: “Seven years of data shows that women are undeniably underrepresented and incremental change is failing to solve the crisis.” Indeed, they are performing so poorly that even the Federal Liberal Opposition is doing a bit better.

The CEW said that in 2023 Australia progressed 17 places in the Global Gender Gap Report – albeit from 43rd to 26th – “due to increased political participation and economic empowerment.”

The CEW also acknowledged that the Albanese Government has demonstrated a commitment to advancing gender equality in its first year in office.

“The current Australian Parliament has the highest number of women representatives in its history and there are gender balanced cabinets in the Federal and the majority of State and Territory parliaments. The Australian Public Service has achieved gender balance with half of senior executive positions held by women and over 40% of APS agency roles held by women,” CEW said.

The CEW ASX 300 companies 2023 survey found that seven in 10 executive leadership roles are still held be men.

91% of ASX300 CEOs positions are also still held by men although women’s representation is up by 2% since 2022. There is also a 6% increase in companies which have gender balanced executive leadership teams but the overall figure for companies is still only 23%.

28 ASX 300 companies have no women in their executive leadership (ELT) teams although all ASX100 companies have at least one woman in their ELT.

In terms of the pipeline roles which lead to a CEO appointment 82% of them are held by men although women’s representation is up by 3% since 2022. However, 42% of the ASX300 companies and 27% of the ASX100 have no women in their CEO pipeline line roles.

Compared to the Federal Government the performance of companies is not exactly flash. The Albanese Cabinet is 43.5% female and even the Dutton Shadow Cabinet is 41.7% female.

All told Labor female Caucus membership is 53% of the total largely as a result of the Labor introduction of quotas from the 1990s – a policy fervently opposed by Liberals on the basis of the need to make decisions on merit not gender. A quick look at the male Opposition MPs and Senators suggests that’s a joke. Meanwhile the ‘policy’ has resulted in only 38% of LNP Parliamentarians being female.

Some Coalition politicians get it. Recently Nationals Senate Leader Bridget McKenzie (she of the sports rorts affair) told an ABC Kitchen Cabinet interview with Annabel Crabb that the way the government treated former Australia Post COE, Christine Holgate, was a turning point.

McKenzie said that when Scott Morrison got up in Parliament and railed against Christine Holgate saying her behaviour didn’t pass ‘the pub test’ and demanding that she should be immediately stood aside or ‘go’  “a lot of professional women looked at that moment, I think, and thought, but I do that, so, what, are these guys on my side or not.”

Sadly, Bridget McKenzie didn’t mention Morrison’s assurance that it was great that women could rally in Australia when in other countries they would be shot nor his many other clangers on women’s issues.

She also didn’t mention that female support for the Morrison Government was the lowest in Liberal Party history.

Meanwhile the CEW organisation suggests that investors should engage with companies “to encourage them to set 40:40:20 (male/female/unspecified) leadership team targets; advocate for the transparent disclosure of workforce gender data and diversity metrics; promote international regulatory approaches like the Nasdaq board diversity rule and address internal gender imbalances within investment management.”