“Whatever women do, they must do it twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” Ottawa’s first female mayor, Charlotte Whitton, made this comment in 1963, and it seems not much has changed since then, writes FIONA REYNOLDS, CEO of AIST.

The number of female directors on corporate boards in Australia has been a hot topic this year and the facts are nothing short of appalling – a mere 10 per cent of directors on ASX100 boards are women, but we’re celebrating this milestone.  In fact, this figure has remained relatively unchanged for the last 10 years.  On the upside, the superannuation industry fares slightly better, with around 19 per cent female directors across the top 199 funds, and around 23 per cent in the not-for-profit sector, but this is still not good enough.  Women have reached leadership positions in government (we have a female prime minister!), public service, science and education – but directorships remain out of reach.

Is it, as Whitton said, because we place higher selection criteria on females and expect them to be better than any male candidate?  For all the fuss we’ve made in relation to equality in the workplace, equal opportunity employment and equal pay, have we actually achieved anything? Or are we still living in a 1960s’ world – one made famous by TV’s Mad Men, where housewives such as Betty Draper are admired, but talented, ambitious and career-driven women such as Peggy Olsen are social outcasts?  Some would argue nothing has changed – in fact, rather than moving towards equal pay, we’ve started to go backwards.  Perhaps quotas are the answer. Norway has imposed a minimum 40 per cent quota for both genders on its listed companies, or they face being delisted.

Sweden has also threatened to impose quotas.  There’s a lot to be said for gender diversity on boards. Aside from any equality issues, there is a plethora of research to show that diversity improves board effectiveness and performance, which in our industry leads to greater profits for members. But despite all this evidence, the super industry still can’t move higher than 23 per cent.  At AIST’s recent ASI Conference, delegates were surveyed on these very issues. Only 20 per cent of respondents believed gender diversity to be an important issue, and 60 per cent were opposed to quotas on superannuation boards. For an industry that prides itself on an equal representation model of governance, this was extremely disappointing.

Join the discussion