With Elizabeth Proust now at the helm of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, there is increasing momentum to tackle the under-representation of women at the upper echelons of corporate Australia.
Proust, a former CEO of City of Melbourne and secretary of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, is a straight-talker who is pushing through some practical research and reporting, which is making a noticeable difference. The biggest obstacle to achieving cultural change in corporate Australia is the reluctance of people in the directors club to call out bad behaviour.
That’s what makes the AICD gender diversity quarterly report such a game-changer because it effectively shames troglodyte companies and chairs and provides real data. The latest report covers the period from March to May and names the 20 ASX 200 companies that still have no female directors.
Perhaps the next step would be for AICD to source and organise some well-credentialed female director to run for these boards at their upcoming AGMs.
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Way back in 2010, I did a burst at AGMs about the lack of women on boards and it was amazing how quickly companies moved when you raised the prospect of a “feral feminist like Catherine Deveny” running hostile for the board if it remained an all-male affair. The likes of Newcrest Mining, JB Hi-Fi, Incitec Pivot, Seek and The Reject Shop all appointed women within months of such an exchange at their AGMs.
Leaving aside a couple of property trusts, these are the ASX 200 companies that the AICD has identified as having no female directors, and chairmen who won’t join the AICD’s “30% club,” which is made up of progressive chairs who have committed to having at least 30% female directors by 2018.
TPG Telecom: A $10 billion company chaired by intensely private Rich Lister David Teoh and backed by the aggressive Rob Millner of Soul Pattinson, a company that shuns standard governance.
Evolution Mining: Sydney-based gold and silver miner now capitalised at $4.4 billion but has never had a female director. Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris controls 30% of the voting stock.
Qube Holdings: Chaired by Chris Corrigan, and it’s surprising to see the lack of women, given it has a relatively open share register after the Asciano takeover. Qube Holdings is capitalised at $3.3 billion.
Northern Star Resources: Capitalised at a healthy $3.2 billion, this Perth-based gold miner has never had a female director despite having an open share register.
Aveo Group: Many of its aged care residents are female, as are a large majority of the staff, but with a 25% offshore shareholder Mulpha, who needs female directors? Perpetual has 14% of this $1.9 billion company and should do something about it.
Independence Group: Perth-based miner of zinc, copper and gold ,which is capitalised at $2.2 billion. Rich lister Mark Creasy is the largest shareholder with 19%.
Regis Resources: Perth-based gold miner capitalised at $2 billion but perhaps constrained by 19% US-based shareholder Newmont Mining. Five blokes on the board, including two executives. Never had a female director.
Mineral Resources: Perth-based mining services company capitalised at $1.9 billion. CEO is Rich Lister Chris Ellison who owns 13% and only has three other directors helping govern the operation.
Mayne Pharma: Chairman Roger Corbett has a $20 million investment and is backed by his old pokies mate and fellow director Bruce Mathieson, who owns 7%. Register reasonably open and now capitalised at $3 billion after recent acquisition and capital raising. It’s hard to understand why women have not been on the board.
ARB Corp: Four-wheel driving is a blokey pursuit, and with the founders still in control, a women-free zone is hardly a surprise. That said, brothers Roger and Andrew Brown have run the show for 29 years but only own 10% so it is surprising the institutions haven’t moved. Performance has been great, and it is now capitalised at $1.4 billion.
Mesoblast: Melbourne-based medical company capitalised at $400 million and, like so many all-male companies, still has a founding shareholder as CEO and a major shareholder in the form of Silviu Itescu, who holds just over 20%.
Flexigroup: Chairman Andrew Abercrombie is a Rich Lister and 24% shareholder in this $750 million financial services company. Abercrombie has just bowed out as honorary Treasurer of the Liberal Party in Victoria, where he fell out with Michael Kroger. Margaret Jackson used to chair, but now we’re back to a four-man board.
Altium: Software and services company capitalised at almost $1 billion with the CEO Aram Mirkazemi only controlling 7%. It’s puzzling why the institutions still allow a blokey five-man board.
Australian Agricultural Company: Beef is a blokey game, but this venerable outfit is chaired by establishment figure Donald McGauchie, so the failure to ever have a female director is surprising.
GWA Group: Conservative Brisbane-based manufacturer of bathroom products, which has never had a female director and has several very long-serving male directors.
Western Areas: Perth-based nickel miner, which has never had a female director and is now capitalised at $750 million.
Austal Ltd: Perth-based ship builder still dominated by former CEO turned chairman and 10% shareholder John Rothwell but only capitalised at $400 million. Plenty of institutions on the register so surprising they haven’t addressed the small four-man board.
Directors are just like politicians in that they respond very quickly when their position is threatened. The fastest way home here would be if a female candidate nominated for these boards but promised to withdraw if the board agreed to find a suitable female candidate.
No one has ever tried this tactic before in Australia but it would certainly work on some companies. If an enterprising woman out there feels inspired to have a go, she could make quite a difference during the 2016 AGM season.