When Catherine Livingstone successfully floated bionic ear manufacturer Cochlear on the ASX for $127 million 17 years ago, the issue of women on boards was barely a glint in corporate Australia's eye.

It took until 2004 before the ugly truth emerged about the dearth of women directors (an embarrassing 8%) -- and by that time Livingstone had quit her CEO post and was four years into a non-executive appointment on the male-dominated Telstra board.