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Quentin's Quotas Quandary


22 March 2011

The womenomics of quotas – the supply and demand of women as board members. I cannot begin to tell you how twisted my knickers are about this at the moment ...!

On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, GG Quentin Bryce advocated the introduction of quotas, goals and targets to ensure more women are appointed on company boards. She believes that such affirmative action might be the only way to break the stranglehold of the ‘old boys’ network on Australian business.

Then shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey banged on about a 30% enforced quota for women on boards when companies fail to fix ‘the problem’ on under representation.  I’m sorry Joe, is 50% too scary for you given we represent half of the population? Humph ...

Anyway, from a womenomics perspective the supply of women as board members is there, the demand ... it appears ... is not.

There are women who want to play at a strategic level and will undoubtedly add value ... as long as they have the intent, insights and abilities that fulfil the strategic and governance needs of the organisation.

I am reminded of a letter to the editor of the Australian Institute of Company Director’s magazine, where a woman was wondering out aloud as to why she hadn’t been appointed to a board even after completing a board member education program. Being a woman with a training program certificate doesn’t necessitate a walk up start. Yet it does highlight the blocks in place for those that wish to contribute at board level. 

Perhaps women are challenged by how to break through the male code while still maintaining their values and integrity. How often have we seen lovely women turn into ice maidens, dripping in unnecessary and unnatural machismo once appointed the boardroom? We do not need women behaving like men at a table full of men. In fact, my husband the Pompous Goose beat me to it this month with his blog on the topic, saying that “women are not promoted on merit when the merit is based upon male codes of conduct and practice” ... Men are simply appointing in their own image and occasionally, it is the women, not the men, that tend to behave badly.

However, what I find more interesting is the demand for women on boards.

We can consider government intervention and kick around the concept of quotas to ramp up affirmative action but you have to ask, why are in this pickle in the first place?

Indeed, last week also saw the announcement of an invigorated Workplace Gender Equity Agency [previously known as the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency]. The Agency is charged with new powers and a new platform, “compelling businesses to not only demonstrate they have a plan to improve gender equity in their workplace but to show actual results ... Any Australian company that fails to meet WGEA reporting requirements will be excluded from sharing in any of the $42 billion worth of government contracts” read more >>

Ouch! So we’ll hit the hip pocket as punishment and further drive tokenism.

The demand for women on boards needs to be driven by strategic advantage and women need to be invited on merit, not force or fear of fiscal decline.  Increasing women at a strategic level will help drive equity and a radical shift in corporate patriarchy ... as long as there is universal investment and leadership integrity in the business case for boardroom representation.

So, has anyone asked ASX, government and not-for-profit boards why they are diversity-challenged? Answer this, and I reckon we might find the true solution.

In the meantime, the Julia jury on quotas is still out.



  • 9 years ago

    Anastasia, hello and WOW! Thank you for taking the time to consider, think and reply ... greatly appreciated. I am really connecting with your thoughts on unpaid and paid authority and how this impacts visibility at a governance level. We do need to crack the patriarchal code of business and leadership, but I am still unsure that quotas will be the sole solution. I feel we all need to work on equitable pay, authentic governance and transparency. The pondering and troublemaking continues ...

  • Anastasia Parrish

    Anastasia Parrish 9 years ago

    Hell Julia - in response to your 'knickers in a knot' this item below tells the story of the change ahead as law will require more gender balance, and encourage men to work part time and spend more time at home...this is an example of how it might work in one situation.***** Source is http://erisk.netThe resignations of two women from AEMO board left nine men and one women on a board which controls operations of a market, paid for by consumers. Consumers have a 50:50 gender split. But the operator - AEMO - works as a blokes - world, with high-paid jobs more than 80 per cent occupied by men; a pattern across the energy industry. MCE has the power: New law appears to require the Ministerial Council on Energy to appoint women to replace Kate Spargo and Patricia McKenzie, on the AEMO board. AEMO the queer quango: AEMO is the monopoly operater of the south eastern gas and electricity markets, and a quango; 60 per cent owned by state governments, and, a private company, but one with a monopoly. and government-like powers. So is AEMO governmengt or private? Women hold only 9 per cent of private board directorships. AEMO is also a government authority. 90pc male committee of male Ministers decides: The Energy Ministers of the Ministerial Council on Energy - the controlling owner of AEMO - were eight men and one woman. The Ministers: Martin Ferguson, Minister For Resources, Energy And Tourism, Commonwealth(Chair, Ministerial Council On Energy) Stephen Robertson Minister For Energy And Water Utilities, Queensland, Paul Lynch, Minister For Energy, New South Wales Michael O’Brien, Minister For Energy And Resources, Victoria, Peter Collier Minister For Energy, Western Australia, Michael O’Brien Minister For Energy, South Australia, Delia Lawrie Treasurer, Northern Territory Treasury Northern Territory, Simon Corbell Minister For Energy, Australian Capital Territory, Bryan Green Minister For Energy and Resources, Tasmania. AEMO has statisically poor record on gender: Its 2010 report to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency - EOWA reported over 80 per cent of AEMO senior managers were male and 63 per cent of its lower paid staff, women. On the case: The General Counsel of Caltex, Helen Conway was this week appointed as head of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) She will take up this position on 27 April 2011. She was most recently the General Manager of the Office of the CEO, Company Secretary and General Counsel for the Caltex Australia Group. The statistics: - Women make up more than half of the Australian public service workforce (57 per cent); - hold around 36 per cent of senior executive positions; - In the private sector, however, women hold only around 12 per cent of management jobs; - women hold 34 per cent of all seats on federal government-controlled boards; and - around 23 per cent of chair or deputy chair positions. However, women hold only 9 per cent of private board directorships. AEMO appointments a four-stage process. AEMO was a government authority with 40 per cent private ownership and theoretically, the Ministerial Council on Energy selects board members. AEMO creates shortlist: A headhunter would spend public money on large advertisements. A short list proposed by the board would go to a Special General Meeting, planned by AEMO. Directors, were appointed by a determination of the members of the Ministerial Council on Energy, from a list prepared by the AEMO board. Test of equality pressures: Given the central government pressure for equality of representation on boards, it appears AEMO - by law - must seek women candidates to replace Kate Spargo and Patricia McKenzie on the 10-member AEMO board. Nine men and one woman: However, Spargo had agreed to stay until a replacement was found. Sole survivor: The female board survivor was Karen Moses, Independent Non-Executive Director. In her other life Moses was Executive Director, Finance and Strategy at Origin Energy Ltd. The AEMO annual report lists Moses as director of the Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria) Ltd, Origin Energy Ltd, Australia Pacific LNG Pty Ltd and Contact Energy Ltd (New Zealand). Patricia McKenzie was reappointed to the Board in 2010: No reason was given for her 2011 resignation. Traditional plaudits were absent from announcements of McKenzie's resignation. McKenzie was a re-appointed May 2010 for a three-year term. Resignation of Kate Spargo: Kate Spargo resigned in March as AEMO non-executive director “effective from the appointment of a new director to replace her”. Spargo’s exit line: AEMO said: ‘Ms Spargo has resigned due to the greater than expected level of commitment at this time with the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants, which is associated with her role as chair of the Australian Accounting Profession and Ethical Standards Board”. Korn/Ferry and an AEMO selection panel: Korn/Ferry was retained to assist with the recruitment process, with a Selection Panel being formed to make a recommendation to members, in accordance with AEMO’s Constitution. \"The consultancy and Selection Panel at the same time will also progress the appointment of a new director to replace Ms Patricia McKenzie, who resigned last month”. Members to endorse AEMO short list: That list then would go to the MCE. \"A Special General Meeting will be held once suitable candidates for the roles of non-executive director have been selected. Members will then consider whether they recommend the candidates to the Ministerial Council on Energy for appointment\". MCE has the power and the obligation: But the power to appoint rests with the MCE if it chooses to use that power.

  • Anastasia Parrish

    Anastasia Parrish 9 years ago

    \"ASX, government and not-for-profit boards diversity-challenged\". I would argue we will see no change until we get mandatory gender representation on boards. I.Q. distribution between genders remains equal. Yet financial distribution remains unequal. Women get some token models - GG Quentin, the PM, both with cute hair-dos. The real picture women stay statistically invisible when it comes to selections for positions of PAID responsibility and authority. Blokes have sharper elbows when it comes to money; and blokes like to appoint other blokes. For example, look at representation in organisations which don't pay governance staff. Non-paid positions of authority appear dominated by women. Example - look at the meetings for business of the Quaker church. No one gets paid in the Quaker Church; there's no minister. Unpaid women rise to the top. That's the pattern; So may be the math: UNPAID AUTHORITY = WOMEN and PAID AUTHORITY = MENLook at NSW St Vincents. With 300 shops in NSW, and vast support services. Some inner city shops earn over $30,000 a week. These shops in the main - staffed by women volunteers, most paid shop managers are women. Each rund a million dollar business. But the higher management, all men, men, men. These men \"manage\" all these women who make the money, and the men get PAID to do it. Vinnies does not appoint successful women from the shop floor. SO these examples suggest an anecdotal pattern; women DO rise into positions of authority, but in volunteer roles. The conclusion - a bias exists around money. It appears 'men deserve to get paid', but women do not. Reminds me of a top job I applied for and did not get. I later observed the incompetence of the appointed person. I asked the decision-maker why he did not appoint me (as it was clear by then, that I could have done the job better). The decision-maker told me \"when I looked at your CV - all the great things you were doing - I thought 'she must have a rich I gave the job to a man because he had to support a family\". I then told the decision maker I was the sole breadwinner, a single parent and had been so for many years. \" Oh\". He said. Since then, I see he has appointed many women. I now run a business in which I advise a community of 95 per cent men. I get paid for that - by myself - as I created the business. I go to a conference, its 95 per cent men. In private commercial advice, I tell these guys what to do. But none of these men would ever consider me for a position on a board - or a committee. In this culture these men will always find a plausible reason why they can't put a woman in a position of visible PAID authority. My experience tells me will see no change until we get some kind of lever for mandatory gender representation on boards. WGEA reporting requirements may make a difference.