No women, no high!

I’m just taking a momentary break in our ten part blog series on what makes a director effective because of recent Australian research…..

I recall a number of years back and when the lonely female on one particular board, the chair was prone to saying things like “…let’s get the violins out…” whenever I raised gender issues or distributed articles on corporate diversity.

Well, I’m sure he was well and truly rosin up the bow when respected new research was published just last month highlighting that those Australian companies with at least 25 per cent female boards perform more than seven per cent better than those with all-male boards.

The research, by the Centre for Gender Economics and Innovation and Infinitas Asset Management, also found that while the level of gender diversity is “frustratingly low”, it is growing, with 63 companies in March 2015 achieving the 25 per cent threshold compared with just 15 in mid-2010.

That’s partly due to the ASX’s commonly termed ‘if not, why not’ rule that, introduced in 2010 to address imbalances rather than establish quotas, requires listed companies to set objectives for gender diversity – and if they don’t set or achieve them, the company must ‘please explain’.

Of course, the findings are hardly earth-shattering – after all, common sense tells us that well-managed diversity in any setting produces better results than you’d get in a mono-dimensional environment – but they are significant as they’re the first of their kind to be published in Australia.

And while we should at least pause to celebrate the progress being made and pay tribute to the growing band of very senior men who are complete champions of board diversity – they believe the research because they see the results – we should not linger too long or get ahead of ourselves as the path forward remains long, winding and strewn with challenges.

How could it be any different when we still live in a world where a female friend of mine, in the very recent past, received evaluation feedback from her chair that included the following ‘charming’ advice?

“It would be good if you could not talk so much and… (WAIT FOR IT!)

“…be a bit more like our wives.”

A colleague of mine in Melbourne told me a while ago that, at that bastion of male executive exclusivity, the Melbourne Club, the male company directors who frequent the establishment seem quite content to invite their female counterparts over for a drink just once a year!

In many situations, it’s more latent but equally – some would argue more so – odious. There’s an undertone, an underlying sentiment that the women on the board are there solely because of their gender. They’re tokens.

That’s rubbish, as there are plenty of excellent women. We know it, the research backs it up and switched on companies appreciate that diversifying their boards with female appointments makes sense – and cents – on every level.

The dynamics of the discussion in the boardroom and the quality of decision-making improves with women in the room, the range of issues canvassed increases and includes usefully different perspectives, innovation abounds and, best of all in the competitive corporate world, profits soar.

Is that an orchestra of violins I hear starting up…?

Until next time,

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