Yesterday’s gender agenda…again or still?

This week sees a “more of the same” scene replay of last year’s results with the same men’s top teams firmly locked into yesterday’s agenda. Currently, just 14.6% of board positions in ASX top 200 companies are held by women, leading to yesterday’s efforts by PM Julia Gillard to change the course of “his story” (sic).

Yesterday, the latest Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, and Finance Minister Penny Wong launched BoardLinks, a proactive initiative to support more Australian women into leadership positions, including increasing female representation on public and private sector boards.

“We know that women are as equally skilled and educated as their male counterparts,” Senator Wong, said, “yet they continue to be underrepresented on high-level boards and decision-making bodies. Through the establishment of BoardLinks, the Government is taking concrete action to address gender inequality,”

Business leaders have put their support behind BoardLinks, with five “champions” of the network announced at today’s launch: CEO of ASX, Elmer Funke Kupper; chair of Coca-Cola Amatil and the Future Fund, David Gonski AC; Westpac CEO Gail Kelly; Telstra chair Catherine Livingstone AO; and the chair of Women Leadership Institute of Australia, Carol Schwartz AM.

A number of organisations have also been announced as affiliates of the network: Australian Institute of Company Directors, ASX, Chief Executive Women, Women on Boards and Women Leadership Institute of Australia.

Our corporate leaders too often follow Pete Seeger’s song theme “Our leaders are the finest men and we elect them again and again…that’s what I learned in school today, that’s what I learned in school.”

In America we had a reprise of the Obama Hope and Change brigade with a majority of US voters confirming their mantra of four more years.

In China we will see the changing of the presidential guard without even wasting the charade of an election to confirm the status quo.

And in the Muddle East, the leadership of Syria’s main opposition bloc in exile, the Syrian National Council, is an all-male affair after elections failed to promote a single woman to a decision-making group of 41. Female delegates at the SNC convention under way in Qatar say the new leadership fails to reflect the key role of women in the push to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

One of the flurry of polls released earlier this year found that 94% of about 500 women surveyed by Gillian Franklin’s Heat Group agreed that Gillard should not be treated differently as PM, but 60% felt she was treated differently to former leaders. Only 9%, however, were very satisfied with how the PM “supports the needs of women”.

In 2010, the Federal Government committed to achieving a 40:40:20 gender balance target on Australian Government boards by 2015 and is on track to meeting this target. As of June 30, 2011, women held 35.3% of government board positions.

A couple of years ago, the then Minister for the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek, announced that the Gillard government would increase the number of women on boards by providing scholarships to women through the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and setting minimum targets for the number of women on Federal Government boards. Speaking at the Women, Management and Work Conference, the Minister announced that more than 70 high-performing women would receive scholarships entitling them to attend the AICD company directors courses.

The one good news story comes in the community sector with the collaboration between YWCA Australia, the Australian Council of Social Service and Women on Boards that found women now occupy 51% of all board director roles and 60% of senior management positions.

Dr Caroline Lambert, executive director of YWCA Australia, says: “Clearly there is a good news story here. Our sector is doing much better than others. However, this shouldn’t be surprising given that women actually make up about 85% of the community sector’s workforce.”

For more information about BoardLinks, please see the fact sheet or contact Evelyn Ek on 0412 887 853.

Dr Colin Benjamin is an entrepreneurship and strategic thinking consultant at Marshall Place Associates, which offers a range of strategic thinking tools that open up a universe of new possibilities for individuals and organisations committed to applying the processes of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Colin is also a member of the global Association of Professional Futurists.

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