According to a new report by the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Heidrick & Struggles, female representation on boards declines significantly beyond the ASX top 200, falling from 27.9% to just 15.8% across ASX 201-500 companies.
But there are some bright spots, particularly when it comes to more newly listed companies — which may hint at a positive trend for the future.
Qantm Intellectual Property, GBST and Xenith IP Group are some of the companies that have at least 30% or more women represented on their boards.
“The demographic that still questions the value of having appropriately skilled women on boards is a minority that will probably exit the scene over the next decade,” says Sibylle Krieger the Chair of Xenith IP Group, which listed on the ASX less than three years ago.
Krieger is part of a small group of companies that are outshining many bigger corporates on gender diversity.
The AICD has targets in place for the top 200 to have 30%or more women on their boards by the end of this year. But currently, those targets do not apply for small- to medium-sized listed companies.
Of the 83 companies that listed on the ASX in the past five years, 25.3% have 30% or more women on their boards.
This compares with 13% on the boards of companies that listed before 2013.
Also, fewer of the more recently listed companies have an all-male board: 32.5% versus a previous figure of 39.7%.
In addition, 38% of ASX 201-500 boards have no women compared to just three on the ASX200, these being ARB Corp, Tassal Group and TPG Telecom.
Krieger predicts that generational change will eventually make diversity an accepted norm.
“Younger people notice a lack of diversity, and not in a good way,” she says.
“By 2025, 75% of the workforce will be millennial, and they treat diversity as a given. I’m sure they’re surprised that we’re still having this conversation.”
The rate of women board members drops as the company gets smaller — the report found just 14.1% in ASX 401-500 companies.
The results suggest the push for gender diversity appears to be taking hold better among younger companies as research suggests its good for company performance and customer engagement.
The appetite for greater gender diversity is also forcing smaller companies to look outside their traditional networks for board members.
The AICD is considering expanding its target for the ASX Top 200 out to the ASX201-500.
The 30% target for the number of women on a board is seen as the level needed to ensure women are not seen as “outsiders” or representing a “woman’s point of view”. Their voices and ideas are also more likely to be heard.
This helps erode homogeneity on boards, and ultimately, promotes better governance, says the AICD.
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