Broderick backs French plan to force gender equality in boardrooms

by 03 Dec 2009

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick today welcomed the French Government’s announcement that it plans to enforce gender quotas so that women make up half of the country’s leading boardrooms by 2015.

Speaking to HR Leader, Broderick said she hopes Australia will follow in a similar direction and looks forward to seeing what developments there are in the next few days.

“It’s a really interesting development and it signifies that there is a recognition that the market is failing in regard to gender equality and board composition,” said Broderick.

Following in Norway’s footsteps, which introduced such quotas in 2003, the French Government put forward legislation this week that would impose gender quotas on all companies listed on the Paris Stock exchange. The proposed plan would be rolled out gradually over the next six years, starting with a 20 per cent target within 18 months.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) said last week that they would support “targets” whereby all companies were required to set three-year and five-year targets, not just at board level but also at senior management level. “The current proportion of women on major company boards in Australia – 8.3 per cent of ASX 200 company directors according to the latest EOWA data – is not good enough and needs to be increased,” said an AICD spokesperson.

But Broderick said that if such targets aren’t reached the only other option will be quotas.

“What I put forward to the Government through the EOWA review is that if they don’t see the targets are working, and we’re not significantly progressing on these targets in the next five years then we should consider quotas – and that would be government-imposed targets.”

Despite the historical opposition to the idea of quotas, the president of the French Institute of Directors (France’s equivalent to the AICD) said that he reluctantly agreed that they were the only way of encouraging progress. Broderick agreed by saying that although quotas were a last resort, it was becoming clear that they may be the only thing that is going to solve this problem.

One argument to which Broderick does not subscribe is that there are not enough qualified women for the roles.

“I was speaking to the director general of the minister of Norway about two months ago at the Women on Boards conference and she said that if we can find 1000 women in a population of four and a half million here (in Norway), you should be able to find 66 women in a population of 22 million.”

The ASX is currently considering amending its corporate government principles to include targets and plans to announce its decision in the next few days.

“We should be hearing from [the ASX] any day now and it will be interesting to see what they say,” she said. “It would be brilliant to introduce targets. It would be a really terrific structural reform – not just to set clear targets but to report regularly against it.

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