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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Politics, Business and Gender Diversity

The melodrama that is Australian politics never stops.

In November, Coalition member Julia Banks created shock waves by resigning from the Liberal party. Banks was sick, she said, ‘of her party’s cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation.’ The resignation was a blow to the government. Many observers thought it highlighted an undercurrent of sexism in the Liberal Party.

It got worse.

In January, Kelly O’Dwyer, one of the governments most senior women, announced plans to leave. In a meeting with Scott Morrison, O’Dwyer reportedly said the party was viewed as ‘homophobic, anti-women and climate change deniers.’ (‘Guardian’, 19th January 2019).

O’Dwyer was one of six women among the twenty-three frontbenchers. Only a fifth of Liberal members in the lower house are women; less than twenty years ago. It’s no surprise national politics is criticised for a lack of gender diversity.

Banks announced last week that she intends to challenge sitting minister, Greg Hunt, at the upcoming elections. She will continue focusing on ‘gender equality and equal representation of women in leadership positions.’ (‘Guardian’ 31st January 2019).

So, not many signs of progress with gender diversity in our politics. The lack of women in leading political roles and the ‘rotten conditions they face’ even warrant an article in the latest edition of ‘The Economist’ (‘Australian Politics: Sex and the Subcommittee’: February 2nd).

But there’s good news. Banks and O’Dwyer should at least take comfort in what’s happening in Australian business.

Figures published last week show that 29.7% of directors at the top 200 companies listed on the Australian stock market are women. The Australian Institute of Company Directors had set a target; by the end of 2018, 30% of board members in Australia’s top companies would be women.

This is a notable achievement, given that the figure was 19.4% as recently as 2015.

Additionally, 45% of new board appointments last year to the ASX200 went to women. Australia now has a higher proportion of women on the board of its leading companies than the UK, US and Canada. This is progress for a country ‘regularly lampooned for its bloke culture.’ (‘Financial Times’: 2cnd February 2019).

A word of warning. There are few women in Chief Executive roles in Australia and many women directors sit on multiple boards. There’s no doubt, though, that things are moving in the right direction, despite the bias that exists:

We sometimes hear that it is difficult to find specific research that links the increased number of women on corporate boards and company financial performance.

However, the danger for those boards with low female representation is that they fail to fully understand the expectations of their customers, shareholders and communities. They have a limited view of the world.

Indeed, there are many intangible benefits from having female directors: improved brand image, the example it sets to the rest of the company and less Group Think with better decision-making.

We wish the Australian Institute of Company Directors every success in their campaign.

Amber-Rose Robey is a principal consultant at EGM Executive Search and Recruitment in Adelaide South Australia.

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