Why corporate Australia’s gender policies need to be wound into their DNA
BlackRock, July 2014

Gender diversity remains a real issue for boards. In particular, key institutional investors and proxy advisors continue to take a strong interest in board diversity.

BlackRock has released the findings of its third review of the gender diversity policies and disclosures of Australia’s 200 largest-capitalised ASX listed companies. It suggests in the report that proxy advisors that have concerns about gender diversity at the board level may recommend voting against the re-election of Nomination Committee members at AGMs.

The possibility that individual board members may be targeted sits in tension with the fact that it is the collective responsibility of the board to make decisions regarding board composition. From time to time there have been differences of opinions in court cases as to whether additional responsibilities might be owed by directors in special positions (see, for example, the judgment of Austin J in ASIC v Rich [2003] NSWSC 85). However, it is generally accepted that all directors are essentially equal in the eyes of the law.

It will be important to follow the approach of proxy advisors and institutional investors to encourage gender diversity, and whether this reveals future trends on other issues.