Women on boards: how HR can help turn the tide

by Janie Smith12 May 2014
When the Australian Securities Exchange introduced the “if not, why not” disclosure rule that required ASX entities to report on the number of female employees in the company, in senior executive positions and on boards, it had an immediate impact.

The number of women appointed on ASX 200 boards went from 10 in 2009 to 56 in 2010. According to a report by the Korn Ferry Institute, that number rose to 68 appointments in 2011, but dropped to 41 in 2012 and 37 in 2013.

Korn Ferry Australasia’s managing director Katie Lahey said that while the disclosure rule had an impact and improved gender diversity on the ASX 200 companies, it was important to avoid complacency.

“Four years later, the percentage of women on boards has plateaued and more diverse boards have not translated into more diverse executive teams. The rising numbers of women joining boards in 2010 and 2011 may have influenced the environment for women directors – however, the number of female appointments has dropped off since 2012, creating a sense that momentum has been lost.”

Women on Boards chair Ruth Medd agreed that “people need to be continually reminded when they’re dropping off the pace”.

“There are still some companies that will use the usual recruitment procedures for finding new directors which, by their nature, don’t include a lot of women candidates,” said Medd.

“Then you’ve get the issue that if you’re not predisposed to going looking for women, thoroughly, you’ll perhaps rest back on the argument that there aren’t any available. If you look at the headline figures of senior executives in the ASX 200, there certainly aren’t a large number of women in operational roles. But if you look more broadly, you’ll find women all over the place.”

She said that while “if not, why not” helped the top 200 to 300 companies, the rest “just carry on as per usual – remembering that they’re not that large once you get past 300 so they perhaps don’t have quite the resources for recruitment or quite the procedures that the bigger companies might have”.

According to Medd, HR can help by encouraging boards to look more broadly when appointing members.

“HR people can make sure that the recruitment procedures they have in place are open and transparent. HR people need to have a bit more influence, to make sure they have a seat at the remuneration and succession planning committee. They need to make it clear to their organisations that HR is more of a strategic issue than has perhaps been the case in the past.”

HR tips
  • Encourage boards to look broadly for new members to include female candidates
  • Make sure recruitment procedures are open and transparent
  • Ensure that organisational diversity is an intrinsic part of the business
  • Consider candidates who have taken a different path to a board career than the traditional progression from the c-suite


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