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Why its still a Boys Club at the big end of town – my thoughts on this on The Finance Quarter on ABC24

In the current program of The Finance Quarter on ABC24, Andrew Roberston asked me if it’s true that “the big end of town is a boys club – and the boys want to keep it that way”?  This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this question – you may have seen my commentary on the same issue in the News Ltd papers a month ago – and my response remains the same: how can we say it’s not a boys club when over 90% of director roles are held by men, 54% of Australia’s top companies have no women at all on the board and only 4% of line executive roles are held by women – which means there’s a very small pipeline of women feeding into the C-suite and board roles?

We keep hearing about how hard it is to find talented women to fill these top jobs – which implies it’s only the crème de la crème of corporate Australia who make it into these jobs.  So if its true that we already have the best and brightest business brains leading our companies, why haven’t they been able to improve the diversity of women on boards by more than the 0.2% increase that has been achieved in the past 8 years of reporting? And why has the number of women in key executive roles declined over the past 8 years of reporting – despite the vast international research over the past decade that demonstrates those organisations with women on their boards produce stronger financial results, as much as 35% stronger in fact?

It could be that they’re not in fact the best and the brightest at all, with the strategy, HR and change management skills to fix this issue and therefore produce the stronger business results that have been linked with higher female representation at top for many years now.  Or it could be that they’re not suitably motivated – in other words, the “boys club” is alive and thriving.

And more importantly, where are the institutional investors and shareholder groups in this debate and why are they not lobbying for more gender diversity at the top in order to improve shareholder returns?  Everyone knows how important returns are to these groups – so why aren’t they demanding more women at the top in order to improve the bottom line?  Could it be that they are part of the boys clubs too?

It’s human nature to recruit in like – we’ve all done it at some time.  We do it when we consider our own traits and behaviours the norm; when we recruit from our known network; when we assume it’s quicker or better to do something rather than giving someone else the freedom and permission do it their way. 

I believe that if companies want to show they’re serious about equality for women in leadership, we need to see a doubling in the EOWA census numbers in the next two years, as a minimum.  This means we need to see at least 16% of key executive positions and 16% of board positions in our ASX200 companies held by women – which is still not the sort of representation that is required to significantly shift company culture to an inclusive position.

So what can your organisation do to demonstrate its not just a boys club anymore?  Here are some of my tips, as shared on The Finance Quarter:

  1. Acknowledge that the current situation is unacceptable – and that it is likely to be producing suboptimal returns. Then set bold targets like Westpac and The Commonwealth Bank that will enable your organisational to become more representative of the community that it serves.
  2. Stop saying “we’d like more women but we just can’t find them”: women aren’t buying this any more and investors shouldn’t either.  Instead start being part of the discussion at the places women congregate: like conferences and networking events, websites like sphinxx, Women on Boards and the Women’s Electoral Lobby and on the many LinkedIn groups addressing the topic. You’ll be surprised at how many talented women you might find if you move beyond your current circles.
  3. Take some risks.  Organisations don’t need to take radical risks to achieve change – but we can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results.  How about creating one new board position or one new executive position in our top companies, and appointing it to a woman as 3M Australia has done here, or with affirmative action policies as Areva has done in France.
  4. Regognise that merit comes in many forms – and doesn’t need to reflect history.  Open your mind to the types of candidates who would bring different perspectives to your leadership team or board to improve the overall quality of the team.  This could include removing role requirements from the job spec including they types of career history you’re seeking from your candidates (no – a board or exec team full of male lawyers and accountants is not diverse!)  Give equal weighting to “support functions” like HR and marketing that are so often considered less significant than the finance and business line roles, and are often held by women. 
  5. Really get to know the women in your business and what drives them.  Because if I’m right – and it really is the best time to be a woman in business – chances are your competitors will value your female talent more than you do and you could find yourself with some significant losses if you fail to act first.

I am really interested in your thoughts on this – do you think it’s a boys club? If so, what can we do to change that? And if not, why are we not seeing results anywhere in the world, apart from those countries where formal interventions have been introduced?



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