The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) has praised the 35 companies on the ASX 200 whose boards comprise of at least 30 per cent women.

ACSI is working closely with the Australian chapter of the 30% Club to raise the number of women on boards as part of a revolution in the governance structure of companies.

The 30% Club is working collaboratively with organisations including BlackRock, ACSI and the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), to work out the practicalities of how to make it easy for companies to achieve this, according to Louise Davidson, chief executive of ACSI.

“The fact 35 big companies have managed to find enough women to put on the board gives the lie to the idea there aren’t enough available women,” Davidson said.

Davidson was also complimentary of ACSI’s membership which between them have an average of 29.5 per cent of women on boards, meaning “they are well on track to meet that 30 per cent target by the end of 2017”.

However, within superannuation there still remain six industry funds without a single woman on the board: AMIST, BUSSQ, Christian Super, NESS Super, TWU Super and the SA Firefighters Super Scheme.

ACSI has been “talking gently” to companies for about five years on the need to change, but Davidson lamented the fact that there’s still a group of companies that is not paying attention to what ACSI is saying.

“It’s quite extraordinary in 2015 for there to be that many of our largest companies without one single women on their board,” Davidson said. “It really is time to change. We’ve been reasonably patient but that patience is running out.”

She added: “We have a strong mandate from our members – institutional investors in Australia and across the globe, which represent over $1.6 trillion in retirement investments – to consider recommending a vote against the re-elections of directors at companies that exhibit either no willingness, or progress, in this regard.”

The need for change on boards is not just an equity issue, but one of performance. In a press release ACSI refers to the recent Credit Suisse report, The CS Gender 3000: Women in Senior Management, which found that “greater diversity in boards and management are empirically associated with higher returns on equity, higher price/book valuations and superior stock price performance”.

“Someone said to me, ‘Why are you bringing gender politics into this?’ Well it’s not bringing gender politics into it, it’s about performance as well. There’s a lot of studies over the last decade that have been pretty conclusive,” Davidson said.

Another study which found a strong link was the Harvard Business Review, quoted by Helena Morrissey, global founder of the 30% Club, during ACSI’s annual conference in May (Investment Magazine’s story on the session can be read here).

The Harvard Business Review article, “What makes a team smarter? More women”, found there was little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. Further, the research shows if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises. This demonstrates a group’s collective IQ has more to do with its dynamics, how it works together, than the individuals’ intelligence.

ACSI has, in recent days, written to the chairs of more than 30 companies in the ASX 200 yet to appoint a woman, and to those companies which still have only one female director, reminding them of the 30% target that is fast becoming seen as the minimum benchmark in corporate Australia.

“We’ve been focusing on conversations in the past week on boards that have zero women on them, but ACSI’s target is actually for all companies to have reached 30 per cent women on boards by 2017, and that’s quite a lot more work for those boards that are starting from a low base,” Davidson said.

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