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BlackRock Review Shows The Gender Diversity Disaster Among ASX Companies

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L). Photo: Getty

It’s been a bad year for gender diversity in Australia.

Australia’s first female prime minister, governor general and attorney-general have left their posts.

The former female secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, recently wrote that Julia Gillard suffered outrageous sexism, while about 30% of the Commonwealth Parliament is female compared with the female representation in the Australian population of 50.5%.

And it’s not much better at Australia’s big public companies, according to the third BlackRock review of gender diversity policies and disclosure which reviews the 2013 annual reports of Australia’s 200 largest-capitalised ASX listed companies.

Here are the three key findings:

  • At the very top of ASX200 companies, the underlying gender diversity in boards and at the crucial key management personnel level has risen. But progress has been slow for those in full-time executive roles, supporting the view that corporate commitment to gender diversity policies is piecemeal and could definitely do better.
  • “Perfunctory” describes the most common approach to gender diversity disclosure and reporting of ASX200 companies. The general tendency was for disclosure to simply state a company had a diversity policy, list some measurable objectives and disclose some statistics. It appeared from the board down, gender diversity is not included in the DNA of most companies.
  • The voting guidelines of the key proxy advisors refer to diversity and the issue may be taken into account when proxy advisors are making recommendations on how to vote on the election/re-election of directors.

The increasing representation of women on boards does continue, with 33 non executive director (NED) appointments during 2013 pushing to 21% the number of women on boards compared to 17.8% in 2012.

However, it’s men leaving boards which is having the most impact.

“Our research showed that of the 106 NED resignations, only 10 were women,” the report says. “The male resignations occurred after having served, on average, over nine years on the board.”

However, at an executive level women represent only 5.6% of executive directors, comparing very poorly with other countries such as Hong Kong where the level is 13%.

On disclosure, BlackRock identified the following stars providing excellent information on their approaches to diversity:

  • Mirvac Group
  • Perpetual Limited
  • Graincorp Limited
  • Telstra Corporation Limited
  • Westfield Group
  • Westpac Banking Corporation

This chart shows the ratings across the ASX 200:

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