Female ‘super connectors’ shake up the boardroom

feature-superconnector-200It’s not what you know, or even who you know: when it comes to the boardroom, it’s how many people your own connections know that really matters.

But for women on the ASX, there’s hardly an “old girls network” to rely on for this, at least not in an official capacity based on visible boardroom connections.

And that’s not just because women are still significantly under-represented on the ASX, where the ladies account for just 10% of the board positions available (a little more on the ASX 200). Rather, it’s because women tend to be connected to the opposite gender.

However, there are 10 leading female “super connectors” on the ASX, according to company mapping experts Optimice, based on data provided by Thomson Reuters (as of August 2012). Individually, they are their own networking hubs, powerful centres of capacity for boardroom introductions and collaborations. These women have the ability to reach a significant number of board members directly, or through an introduction from somebody they share a boardroom table with.

Optimice refers to the “super connectors” as those who come out on top of the “direct reach index”, an index that measures how many people we can assume a single board member can connect with through their one or two degrees of separation. While board members can obviously reach out to directors with absolutely no companies in common, it’s these direct connections that are visible and where interactions occur in an official capacity.

Women are represented far better amongst the upper echelons of the super connector crowd than they are across the boardroom positions of the ASX, accounting for 20% of the top 100 super connectors on the exchange. But the female “super connectors” overwhelmingly reach other male directors, rather than women, and share few links with each other.

Jane Hemstritch is well ahead of the rest. Sitting on the boards of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Lend Lease Group, Tabcorp Holdings and Santos, she can reach 291 board members in total – 71 directly and 250 through an introduction via one of the people she shares the boardroom table with.

She’s followed by Nora Scheinkestel with 267 board member connections in total, 41 directly through her four boards AMP, Orica, Pacific Brands and Telstra, and 220 through an introduction.

Also in the top 10 are Anne Brennan, Emma Stein, Anne Keating, Sandra McPhee, IIana Atlas, Shannon Coates, Catherine Livingstone and Leanne Ralph.

Influence of the super connectors

Cai Kjaer, a co-founder of Optimice who worked with Women’s Agenda on the results, says the fact women are mostly connected to other men paints a “depressing picture of gender diversity”. But he adds the super connectors hold significant influence – and getting them on a board is useful to a company’s bottom line.

“We know from our own research that companies with highly connected non-executive directors outperform those that don’t. And we are talking a big impact,” he said.

By analysing the boardroom connections of 583 listed companies that reported their revenue and market capitalisation results for the period 2004 to 2012, Kjaer found those companies with strong boardroom links to other ASX-listed entities delivered a better performance. The difference is significant: companies experience an 83% difference in the compound annual growth rate on revenue by having highly connected non-executive directors, he found.

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