May 21, 2010

The blokes who should step aside for female directors

It's time for Australia to fix its woeful record when it comes to female representation on public company boards. Here's some suggestions of which men should clear out to give the ladies some room.

Stephen Mayne — Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne

Journalist and Founder

With the markets tanking again and pressure mounting for Australia to fix its woeful record when it comes to female representation on public company boards, there is no time like the present to purge some of the long serving or poorly performing blokes in the directors’ club. It remains a complete disgrace that only 8.3% of ASX100 directors are female, when studies show that board diversity tends to produce better results.  The solution is for all public companies to aim for at least two female directors, not just the single token woman who can then feel uncomfortably isolated. I’ve only been raising the issue of gender diversity at AGMs for six months, coinciding with the unprecedented push we’re currently seeing involving various women’s networks, along with the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Business Council of Australia. David Jones and Seek were both given a rocket on the same day at AGMs last November and within weeks had added new female directors. Whilst we can all talk in generalities about statistics and principles, real change also requires some name and shame tactics and direct action. I flew to Adelaide on Wednesday for the OZ Minerals and Adelaide Brighton AGMs because these two companies have never had a female director. It was great to see the back of 76-year-old Adelaide Brighton chairman Malcolm Kinnaird who retired at the end of the meeting and responded to the board diversity question by noting there was a lot of “social pressure” to appoint females. Adelaide Brighton is now looking for up to three new directors and let’s hope incoming chairman Chris Harris, who has served with this all-blokes board for 15 years, gets with the program. Here are some suggested resignations that could potentially create vacancies to be filled by many of the talented and under-worked women on this list which tracks the top 75 female directors in Australia. David Ryan: still yet to be held to account as the long-time audit committee chair of ABC Learning, he should immediately resign as Transurban chair and a Lend Lease director. Brian Jamieson: having just taken the chair at Sigma Pharmaceutical he is now over-committed. Given the fiasco of OZ Minerals, an all-blokes board, that would be the appropriate position to quit. John Stocker: being Donald McGauchie’s surviving chief backer at Telstra and the now departed chair of Sigma Pharmaceutical he should quit all boards, including the struggling Nufarm. Peter Ritchie and Murray Wells: have served for far too long on the Seven board and didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory during the recent $2 billion Westrac related party deal. Ritchie predicted Seven shares would surpass the record high of $14.68 in 2008. Today they are at $6.50, suggesting it paid too much to fix Kerry Stokes’ $1 billion private debt problem. Ken Cowley: News Corp director since 1979 who turns 76 this year and should stand aside so the Sun King can appoint a second female to the board, joining the 30 year old opera singer Natalie Bancroft. Trevor Gerber: dreadful record at Valad Property Group, lead independent director of Macquarie Airports who championed the outrageous $345 million divorce payment to Macquarie and also chaired one of the dud Babcock vehicles. Should be off all public company boards yet Risk Metrics has apparently supported his re-election at next week’s MAP AGM. Barry Cusack: still hanging around the Toll board despite all the disasters of Oxiana and OZ Minerals. Toll has no female directors, so this 68-year should shuffle off promptly to create a vacancy. Donald Morley: Hugh Morgan’s long-time finance director at WMC is approaching 70 and has done a poor job as the over-paid chairman of post box company Alumina for the past eight years. Alumina, Toll Holdings, OZ Minerals, Newcrest and Orica and the five Melbourne-based companies in the top 50 without any female representation on the board.

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3 thoughts on “The blokes who should step aside for female directors

  1. Julius

    Well done in not falling for some pious pretence that only something close to 50 per cent women on listed company boards would be acceptable. It is obvious that motherhood diminishes the time many women use to qualify themselves for board membership, that there is still a legacy of older directors who are, for historical reasons, male (and about which you complain with some justice when you point to the dead wood to be axed).

    We may also be getting to the point where the upsurge in female ambition to live the life which gave significance and even, apparently, satisfaction to their male peers is receding. That said,
    anything under 15 or 20 per cent seems, intuitively, to be too few from any tenable point of view or criterion.

    You do, however, make points about particular companies which seems to miss some relevant points. Whether you take the view that women on boards are valuable mostly because they are different from men or because including them shows that you are choosing from a larger unisex pool of more or less standard director material it does seem wise to acknowledge some differences between men and women, or, more accurately, the pool of male talent and that of female talent.

    Set aside the awkwardness of some arguments for women judges which are based on them being different which can only raise the question of different brands and standards of justice according to whether you get a female or male judge, the fact is that there would be far more women with something to contribute to the policies, practice and governance of retailing, banking, passenger transport, media, food manufacturing and clothing companies than, e.g. mining, goods transport, machine tool or heavy engineering companies. Partly it may be for the reason that Esso (and perhaps Exxon) used to have a board stacked with engineers – as to which one might have started with the objection that finance and HR were underrepresented by any rational standard – but partly it might result simply from the way female preferences and/or opportunities result in different qualifications by experience.

    If your main point is not so much to put the best directed and precisely arguments for more female board appointments but to attack the indulgence of failures, you have my sympathy in that too, although association with failures is only a rough rule of thumb clue to whether the experienced director has something useful to contribute still. Likewise with age, though there is no doubt that some formerly capable 75 year olds are well passed their best and often cannot meet the requirements where high energy and long hours of application are required.

  2. Gavin Moodie

    It is great to read Mayne finally agitating for more female representation on company boards. Having started with the unpleasant task of fingering the fogies who should be voted off, maybe you could next consider who might be more suitable appointments.

  3. dmc333

    i can’t believe the buffoonery of peter cook doesn’t rate a mention here. ask any one with a long term holding in biota and see what they think of him, it wouldn’t be positive.

    he’s largely insulated because the company makes money regardless of his ineptness, not that it helps the share price.

    being offered a 75 million settlement from gsk, turning it down, wasting 40 million in legal fees, then settling for 20 million a few years later would have to rate as an first rate corporate howler.

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