A Credit to Mentors Down Under? A Record-setting Year for Australian Female Directors

By Michelle Lamb, Research Associate

Last month a record was set in Australia with respect to the percentage of women on company boards. According to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, as of 2011 year-end the number of women on ASX200 boards reached 65, including 12 new appointments (or 40 percent of new hires). Compared to ION’s finding that only 16 percent of new board hires in the US were women last year, this momentum in Australia is remarkable.

Some credit is being given to the revised Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations (effective January 1, 2011 for ASX-listed companies) that encouraged disclosure of gender representation at the staff, senior management, and board levels, as well as “measurable objectives” regarding gender diversity. (These “recommendations” adopt the “comply-or-explain” approach, and are not mandatory, yet some claim they are making an impact.) However, there is another initiative may have more to do with the improved gender representation – a two-year-old mentoring program at the Australian Institute of Company Directors that matches long-serving directors with up-and-coming females.

The recent increase is a continuation of a trend we noted in our March 2011 Women On Boards report; women comprised 10.9 percent of all directors at the public companies we cover in Australia, up from 8.3 percent in 2010.  As some countries adopt quotas or threaten to, others are initiating guidelines and mentoring programs such as those in Australia. It remains to be seen the results of the various approaches, both in the raw figures and the resulting quality of the corporate governance in different countries.

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