Originally published by the Australian Institute of Company Directors in the Gender Diversity Quarterly Report (December 2017)


It’s working

At the start of AGM season, AICD Chair Elizabeth Proust said ACSI’s gender diversity voting policy “could be a game changer” (The Australian, 26/09). It has been, although we haven’t applied it as often as we anticipated. ACSI has been discussing board gender diversity with companies for years. In 2015, we decided that progress on this issue had been so glacially slow that we needed to introduce a target.

Our target was 30% women on boards by the end of 2017. This year, we implemented a voting policy to support our 30% target. Our policy provides that we will recommend against the (re)election of directors on companies with poor board gender diversity.

In late 2016, we identified 16 companies that met our criteria for an ‘Against’ recommendation (in other words, they had zero women directors). In practice, we have only recommended voting against four companies this AGM season. It wasn’t that we changed our minds in the other cases. Rather, the 12 companies appointed or announced their intention to appoint a women director.

We see this as a sign our voting policy has focussed companies on the need to consider board gender diversity.

Recent outcomes

We are very pleased to see some positive responses to our policy on board gender diversity this AGM season:

  • Flight Centre announced it would appoint Colette Garnsey in early 2018.
  • Reliance Worldwide Corporation agreed to appoint a woman and is in late-stage discussions with a candidate.
  • Investa Office Fund appointed Gai McGrath to the board in October.
  • Evolution Mining appointed Andrea Hall to the board in October.

These appointments were preceded by discussions between ACSI and company directors. In the case of Reliance, we initially recommended an ‘Against’ vote but amended it to ‘For’ on the basis of undertakings given to us.

With a small number of companies, we recommended an ‘Against’ vote on gender diversity grounds. This occurred at CIMIC Group (which has since appointed Kate Spargo), ARB Corporation, AACo (which has since appointed Jessica Rudd) and TPG Telecom.

At the time of writing, TPG is the only ASX100 company without a woman on its board. Once Reliance fulfils its commitment, TPG will be one of only six companies in the ASX200 without a woman director. The others are Ardent Leisure, ARB, Galaxy Resources, Speedcast International and Beach Energy. TPG, ARB and Speedcast International have never had a woman on their board.

More needs to be done

When we started campaigning on board gender diversity, there were 34 all-male boards in the ASX200. Today the figure is much smaller. Almost half of the ASX200 now have boards that are near or above our 30% target. In addition, the talent pool of women directors is growing, as new or first-time directors are being appointed. That said, progress has been slower than we’d hoped for.

This year, women have represented around 38% of ASX200 board appointments, bringing the average to 26% of ASX200 directors. Another 54 women need to be appointed to reach 30%. At this rate, we will not achieve this target for another 12 months, assuming no or low attrition among existing women directors. Realistically, based on the current attrition rate, this target is two years off.

 

2015*

2017

Change

ASX200 boards above 30%

12

50

+316%

ASX 200 boards with zero women

32

7

-75%

ASX 200 boards with one woman

68

66

-3%

Rate of appointment of women

31%**

39%

+26%

ASX200 directors who are women

19%

26%

+37%

*As at February 2015   **As at 31 December 2014

 

Eliminating zero women boards from the ASX200 is only part of the job. There are still 66 companies in the ASX200 with only one woman director. This does not reflect board gender diversity. Moreover, boards with only one woman can easily revert to zero women status, as happened to Beach Energy when Fiona Bennett retired at the company’s November AGM.

In 2018, we will publish a revised gender diversity voting policy which will include new incentives for companies to meet our 30% target.

ACSI and its members see board gender diversity as a significant business issue and necessary for the long-term sustainability of companies.  This issue will therefore continue to be one of our priorities until a reasonable gender balance is achieved.

 

Louise Davidson, CEO, Australian Council of Superannuation Investors