A question of ‘how’ to achieve gender diversity

by 24 Oct 2011

An increased take up of diversity guidelines has spurred big companies to action, and business leaders are now saying it’s simply a question of how to arrive at the targets.

For the first time in Australia, many of the biggest listed companies have published new figures on the proportion of women on their staff and in senior ranks, in an effort to be early on complying with new ASX corporate governance guidelines that officially start next year.

The release of gender proportion figures comes amid the public debate on how to increase diversity in the most senior corporate positions, including CEOs, directors of company boards, membership on boards, and a general under-representation of women in senior management positions.

Next year will see the onset of major changes, when ASX listed companies will be required to adopt and disclose diversity policies, as well as set “measurable objectives” on gender diversity, and make public the proportion of women on staff, in senior management roles and on their board of directors.

Under the ‘If not, why not’ style rule, a company that doesn't comply will be expected to explain why it is failing to meet targets.

The figures confirm some trends that should be expected: mining companies employ more men, and healthcare companies more women. Yet, the release of figures is expected to prompt some uncomfortable questions – such as why a dozen ASX 100 companies still do not have a single female board member.

Further, in a recent report by Ernst and Young, the company said that that the ASX guidelines appears to have prompted a rush of ‘political correctness’, because it’s already widely proven that gender diversity improves business results.

Prominent female director, Jillian Segal, who is a director of National Australia Bank and the Australian Stock Exchange, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the impact of the guidelines will become clear in time. “We really need to see some greater analysis and also see how the numbers move over the next year or two,” she said.

“My impression is that in many of these boardrooms the conversation has changed, and the conversation is not 'should we do it?' but how best to do it,” Segal added.


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