The evidence has become clear that boards with greater gender balance perform better in delivering the objectives of their organisations. In its mission to promote better boards and stronger governance, the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) is committed to a target of reaching 30 percent of female representation on ASX200 boards by the end of 2018.
To maintain the focus of boards on this 30 percent goal, the AICD tracks board appointments with new female board recruits above 40 percent of the total so far in 2016, the highest rate since the AICD began monitoring figures in 2009. But while progress is being made, the effort needs to continue if the proportion of female directors is going to rise from the current 23.4 percent over the next two years.
The AICD is taking practical steps to help its members lead the charge for greater gender diversity. As part of building women’s director networks and giving women the confidence they need to join boards, the AICD recently created a new initiative, the On Board Forums, where women can develop their director skills under the guidance of experienced chairs and non-executive directors of ASX-listed companies.
“The forums provide emerging female directors the opportunity to connect with experienced ASX 200 chairs and non-executive directors and gain insights into boardroom behaviour and the decision making processes of an ASX chair,” AICD's Board Diversity Manager Rhian Richardson said. “These forums encourage participants to practice their boardroom skills in a constructively challenging yet positive environment that enables self-reflection and group learning.”
The first two forums were held in Sydney and Melbourne earlier this month. At each forum, participants were grouped with ASX chairs and non-executive directors to simulate a board discussion around a mining sector case study.
The forums provide emerging female directors the opportunity to connect with experienced ASX 200 chairs and non-executive directors.
The chairs of the Sydney ‘boards’ were David Gonski AC FAICD (Life) of ANZ Limited, Catherine Livingstone AO FAICD of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Andrew Dutton MAICD of SAI Global, David Clarke MAICD of Charter Hall Group, Leslie Hosking MAICD of Adelaide Brighton, and Debbie Page FAICD of Brickworks Ltd. In Melbourne the board discussions were led by Leigh Clifford AO FAICD of QANTAS, Paul Brasher MAICD of Incitec Pivot Ltd, Rebecca McGrath FAICD of CSR Ltd, Bruce Brook MAICD of Programmed Maintenance Services Ltd, Geoff Brunsdon FAICD of Sims Metal Management and Jim Askew MAICD of Syrah Resources.
Over two hours, participants talked through the strategic decisions and ethical dilemmas posed by the case study under the guidance of the chairs.
Each of the events also featured a keynote speech. In Melbourne, Leigh Clifford, Chair of Qantas since 2007, gave advice to participants on the role of the chair and the attributes non-executive directors should develop. He stressed the importance of always having a view as a director but being careful not to be overly domineering in meetings. Directors also should be mindful that they represent all shareholders and stakeholders, not just a vocal minority.
In Sydney, ANZ Chair David Gonski discussed, by way of a real-life case study from his role as Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, the importance of effective communication between directors to ensure everyone understands the key issues and the implications of their decisions.
At the conclusion of the Melbourne forum, all the directors were asked to give their opinion on when boards do their best work. The top three tests of a board’s mettle were, according to the chairs, crisis situations, mergers and acquisitions and how they go about a decision to fire a CEO.
For cultural and historical reasons, Australia's boards still do not have enough women. Through the On Board Forums, the AICD is developing the networks, confidence and skills of its female members so that they can correct the current imbalance.
More On Board Forums will be held around the country early next year. For more information about the program or the AICD's diversity agenda more generally, visit the diversity pages of the AICD website.