Superannuation funds are taking the fight for more women in the boardroom to company directors, with the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) and health industry fund HESTA pledging to vote against all-male boards.
“It’s unacceptable that in 2017 the boards of some of Australia’s biggest companies have no women on them,” HESTA chief executive Debby Blakey said.
HESTA has already taken action with the fund protesting agricultural group AACo’s male-only board by voting against the re-election of executive director and vice chair Shehan Dissanayake at the company’s annual meeting in Darwin on Wednesday.
The move came at the recommendation of umbrella group ACSI, which represents 37 super fund investors who collectively own 10 per cent of the shares in ASX 200 listed companies.
“We now recommend to members that if a company has no women on the board and no convincing argument that it’s about to change we vote against the re-election of the chair of the nomination committee or another board member,” Louise Davidson, CEO of ACSI, told The New Daily.
But despite the growing push for female directors, ACSI’s target of 30 per cent of women directors in top 200 companies by the end of the year looks unlikely.
Earlier this month, the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) reported that a drop in female appointments over 2017 “means the AICD’s target of achieving 30 per cent female representation by the end of 2018 may be slipping out of reach”.
“The monthly rate of female appointments to ASX 200 boards has declined from 44 per cent in 2016 to just 30 per cent in 2017. This equates to 17 female appointments compared to 40 male appointments in the first five months of 2017,” AICD’s report observed.
AICD chair Elizabeth Proust said there was no shortage of qualified women prepared to join boards.
“What is clear is that there is no supply problem, only one of demand,” she said.
“The AICD is calling on chairs and boards on the ASX 200 to continue to show leadership on gender diversity and to refocus their efforts on achieving the 30 per cent target as a priority,” Ms Proust said.
Ms Davidson said there had been an improvement in boardroom gender diversity in recent years but a number of companies are still laggards.
“When we first advanced the target I wrote to all ASX 200 companies who had no or only one woman director and I was surprised to find that was a total of 100 [out of 200],” she said.
Current ACSI analysis shows that this number has fallen to about 80 and that 65 of the top 200 companies have 30 per cent or more women directors.
Gender diversity is a particularly important issue for HESTA.
“More than 80 per cent of HESTA members are women. Having more women in senior leadership flows through to all levels of an organisation, creating a more inclusive work culture and greater career opportunities for other women that, over the long-term, can increase their retirement savings.”
Gender diversity is also an issue for the Australian Shareholders Association with CEO Judith Fox telling The New Daily “our overall view is that there should be 30 per cent women directors on boards, but at the moment we haven’t taken the proactive step of voting against all-male boards”.
HESTA owns shares in Flight Centre and TPG Telecom. Their men-only boards make them a target of the fund.