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Women onto Boards not the answer to gender balance… but I plan to put the question at NAB AGM anyway!

Dianne Jacobs posed an interesting question on the sphinxx LinkedIn group this week: Should The Focus Be ‘Women Onto Boards’ Or ‘Women In Executive Ranks’?  Dianne’s question is off the back of a recent claimthat since Norway introduced quotas in 2004, there has been almost no increase in the number of women in senior line-management positions. My opinion is that focusing on women onto boards is not the answer to increasing the representation of women in leadership ranks in business.  But it doesn’t hurt either.

Take the big banks in Australia as a case in point.  At Westpac there are 10 members of the Board of Directors – 3 of whom are women, at NAB 2 out of 13 directors are women, at ANZ only 1 out of 8 directors are women and at CBA 2out of 10 directors are women (incidentally the NAB Annual General Meeting is on in Sydney tomorrow – anyone care to join me to raise the question of gender balance on their board?)

By contrast Westpac has 40,000+ staff, CBA has 44,000+ staff, ANZ has 18,500 staff and NAB has 24,500 staff.  These are numbers where women can have a big impact – because none of them has gender balance in executive ranks.  

Westpac has announced it wants to increase representation of women in top 10% of executive roles from 33% to 40%, CBA has announced similar targets.  NAB and ANZ have set internal targets but to my knowledge have not communicated them publicly.  But in any case – the size of the prize is so much bigger when focusing on executive roles instead of board positions.

The challenge I guess is finding an easy way to measure and report consistently on female representation in executive roles – because some companies use the “top 10%” measure while some have an absolute number (top 200 execs) etc.  The measurement of women on boards is much easier, and some would say easier to influence since the numbers are so much smaller.

So sure, let’s support the appointment of more women to boards.  But let’s not forget in the process the tens of thousands of woman who are ready and waiting for their next workplace promotion and make sure we do all we can to achieve gender balance within all ranks of our organisations and not just on the board of directors.

Have a different view?  I’d love to hear from you – please post your comments here.


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