However there are signs that boards of newer companies and those chaired by individuals who also chair larger listed boards are leading the way towards greater gender diversity.

The Beyond 200: A Study of Gender Diversity in ASX 201-500 companies, released today by the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Heidrick & Struggles, is the first report of its kind examining the state of gender diversity on ASX 201-500 companies.

Key findings from Beyond 200: A Study of Gender Diversity in ASX 201-500 companies:

  • Female representation on boards greatly declines beyond the ASX 200, falling from 27.9% across the ASX 200 to 15.8% across ASX 201-500 companies.
  • Newer companies are more likely to have greater gender diversity. Of the 83 companies that listed on the ASX in the past 5 years, 25.3% have 30% or more women on their boards.
  • Female representation rises to 22.9% on ASX 201-500 boards chaired by an ASX200 Chair.

In 2015 the AICD set a target for all boards to achieve gender diversity based on a strong body of evidence showing that diverse boards lead to better outcomes for shareholders and stakeholders alike. Research also shows 30% is where “critical mass” is reached in a group setting and the full benefits of diversity are realised.

AICD Chairman Elizabeth Proust AO said that while the AICD has been tracking progress towards the 30% gender diversity target on ASX 200 boards for some years, it was time to shine the spotlight on small-cap companies as well.

“Research shows 30% is the tipping point where the true benefits of gender diversity are gained, and that’s the case regardless of whether you’re an ASX50 or ASX500 company,” she said.

“This report indicates that there are larger obstacles to achieving greater gender diversity among companies outside the ASX200, given small board sizes and greater presence of founders and investors. However it also shows chairs of larger companies are exerting their influence and newer companies have heard the message about the importance of diversity.

“Greater gender diversity on boards of all sizes is fundamental to the future of good governance in this country. Continued advocacy, engagement and education is needed to see all boards reap the benefits of diversity.”

Guy Farrow, Managing Partner of Heidrick & Struggles Australia, said that as a global leadership advisory firm, the company has a responsibility to guide boards and senior leadership teams towards hiring decisions that will produce the best outcomes, and that diversity is fundamental to that goal.

“Today’s small cap company can be tomorrow’s ASX 100 business. Statistics have shown that over a 10-year period, a certain percentage of small-cap companies can grow to become larger cap businesses. Any company that aspires to break into the higher reaches of the ASX needs to consider how its governance principles will stand up to increasing scrutiny from investors,” he said.

“This report suggests that while many small cap companies are missing out on the benefits of diversity, there are also signs of positive change. Younger companies have a higher percentage of women on their boards, and millennials – who have grown up accepting diversity as the norm rather than as an aspirational goal – are no doubt making a difference.”

Richard Cawsey, Chair of three small cap companies including ASX-listed Redbubble, said he believes diversity is an under-valued asset.

“There’s still room for education about the benefits of diversity and what it really means. It’s all well and good having a diverse range of voices, but to be inclusive, you have to listen to them. That will only come when diversity is accepted as a major aspect of governance,” he said.

Respected Non-Executive Director Graham Bradley, who has chaired companies both in the ASX 200 and in the ASX 201-500, said he wasn’t surprised to see greater gender diversity on company boards whose chairs also chaired ASX 200 boards.

“There is wide recognition among the directors and, particularly, the chairs of larger companies that there are many benefits associated with both gender and cognitive diversity,” he said.

“Over time, they will help to influence smaller companies when it comes to increasing the number of women on the board. However it will likely be a slow process because there’s a lower rate of turnover on small-cap boards.”

Other findings from Beyond 200: A Study of Gender Diversity in ASX 201-500 companies:

  • 16% of ASX 201-500 boards have achieved or surpassed the 30% target.
  • 38% of ASX 201-500 boards have no women at all.
  • Women account for 10.3% of board roles for ASX 201-500 companies in male-dominated industries, compared to 24.1% across the ASX 200.

Media Contact: Carissa Simons 02 8248 6612 | 0417 348 659

The Australian Institute of Company Directors is committed to excellence in governance. We make a positive impact on society and the economy through governance education, director development and advocacy. Our membership of more than 43,000 includes directors and senior leaders from business, government and the not-for-profit sector.

About Heidrick & Struggles

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