Super funds set 30 per cent targets for women on ASX200 boards

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), representing a number of superannuation funds owning approximately 10 per cent of ASX200 companies, aims to have women comprising 30 per cent of the boards of those companies within the next three years.

ACSI notes it is acting on the strong evidence of the links between board gender diversity and financial performance. It has considered the research that shows that skilled and suitably diverse boards improve the governance of listed companies, in turn improving higher value investments over the long-term.

Superannuation funds are concerned that the rate of women appointments to S&P/ASX200 boards appears to be plateauing at around 30 per cent (based on AICD figures), in spite of growing empirical evidence (such as the recent Credit Suisse report, The CS Gender 3000: Women in Senior Management) that gender diversity in both the boardroom and executive management is a key marker of a well-governed, high-performance entity.

By the end of 2014, women were occupying almost 300 seats in ASX200 boardrooms (19.3 per cent of all directors), which is a significant improvement on the parlous five per cent of women directors recorded in 2010. That was the year when the ASX Corporate Governance Council introduced its diversity amendments to the Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations, focusing corporate attention on the issue. The introduction of the new recommendations calling for listed entities to disclose their diversity policy and the number of women on the board and in senior management revealed just how few women sat on ASX boards, and has resulted in lifting the representation of women on governing bodies.

ACSI has warned that the issue will be a key priority of its shareholder engagement with ASX200 boards in 2015. Its particular focus will be on the companies without a single female director. There are 36 companies, including one in the ASX50 and another three in the ASX100, that have no women on their boards.

In the media release launching the initiative, ACSI’s CEO, Gordon Hagart commented that ‘Having one woman on your board is not, however, ‘job done’. And having no women on your board leaves ACSI, and its members, wondering about the fitness of company chairs that have not yet been able to find an appropriately skilled woman to appoint. What else might they have missed in their role?’. He added, ‘ACSI hopes that Australian boards will willingly embrace the challenge, avoiding the need for the legislated quotas adopted by many other countries where improvements in diversity seemed to be happening too slowly’.

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