Project launched to mentor women with the intent of seeing them move into more senor positions

The Australian Institute of Company Directors has launched a pilot project designed to mentor senior women executives with the intent of seeing them move into more senor positions within the ASX200.

It comes after the Business Council of Australia launched a similar program last month, but the AICD has insisted its own project is separate from any lobbying to introduce legislation mandating quotas for executive boards.

AICD chief executive John Colvin announced the program yesterday, which will see 56 chairman and senior directors within the ASX200 mentor 63 women in order to see them promoted. He cited figures showing only 8.3% of board members among the ASX200 are women.

“It is simply not acceptable that only 8.3% of board directors are women, so we are now doing something about it,” Colvin told reporters.

Some of the executives to be included in the program include Caltex’s Elizabeth Bryan, Fairfax Media’s Roger Corbett, Elizabeth Alexander from CSL and Catherine Livingstone from Telstra.

Also involved in the program are David Gonski, John Morschel from ANZ and Insurance Australia Group executive James Strong.

The women to be mentored were picked by a committee, with members including BHP chairman Don Argus, Caltex chairwoman Elizabeth Bryan, Origin chairman Kevin McCann and Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick. The 63 women will meet with their mentors for at least one hour every two months.

“When the top chairmen in Australia get behind something like this, that’s a huge signal, I think, to the rest of the boards throughout Australia and, quite frankly, boards everywhere that where we are is not good enough and that we have to improve it,” Colvin told reporters.

He added the organisation had no issue finding participants and that demand actually outstripped placements available within the program. However, he also said further events and programs would see similar mentoring experiments take place.

“We can do what we can do, and other people can assess and see whether they need to do anything else,” he added. “But there is quite a lot of enthusiasm for this general diversity aspect, and I actually think it’s the mood change and the cultural change which is the most important thing and has the most long lasting effect.”

“We are making sure that these women executives are given the sunlight to get on boards. We had 170 applications and had to cut it back to 63. We hope to have more women board representatives at the end of the one-year scheme.”

Chairman Richard Lee also addressed concerns that while the role of women in prominent board positions comes alongside issues relating to race and culture discrimination, the AICD believes the priority is to focus on the gender gap.

“I think in the current debate, certainly the current debate in corporate Australia and around government, when people say diversity, what is in the front of their mind is gender, and I think quite rightly.”

“That’s not to say that there aren’t other challenges in the diversity space, but I think the gender diversity on boards, and this has been pretty well researched, is an important nut to crack.”

A spokesperson from consultancy group The 100% Project said it is supportive of the initiative, but hopes it will focus on bringing women into new roles and not changing their personalities.

“We are very supportive of any initiative that tries to get women into senior leadership positions. However, that needs to be coupled with some real system change where women are more supported… mentoring shouldn’t turn women into men or make them more like men.”

 

Visit Women’s Agenda for more news and advice for professional women.

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