The number of women on government boards in Australia has fallen below the 40% target, with men making up 75% of the new appointees within Tony Abbott’s departments this year – despite the Prime Minister also being the minister for women.
According to a new report: Gender Balance on Australian Government Boards, prepared by the Office for Women and published in Fairfax Media, the number of women on boards has dropped from 41.7% under Labor in 2013 to 39.7 under the Coalition in 2014.
The report says 63.5% of positions were offered to men to June 2014. It comes in the wake of more than 800 board positions being cut as the Coalition pushed to streamline oversight of government bodies.
And while the Department of Health made 99 new appointments at nearly an even split, Prime Minister and Cabinet awarded just 21 of 87 positions to women.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told Fairfax “The government is committed to the 40:60 target and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women is working with colleagues to ensure this target is achieved”.
This finding comes just weeks after Abbott said his top achievement as Minister for Women this year was returning $550 a year to the average family by repealing the carbon tax.
In the same week, the PM was also asked if he was “embarrassed” by the small number of females on his frontbench, to which he said:
“We have got two cabinet ministers, two outer ministry ministers and three parliamentary secretaries so look, there are women in the corridors of power.
“The challenge… is to get more women into public life, more women into the Parliament [and] once we have got more women in the Parliament, we will have more women in the ministry and more women in the cabinet.”
But this is not just a government issue, it’s a national issue as there continues to be a clear inequality within Australian boardrooms.
Approximately 70% of ASX companies board positions are held by males over the age of 50, with the average age being 60.
So while they make up less than 10% of the population, they hold most of the senior positions in Australia, and therefore are making the most decisions and influence.
Business Insider columnist Finn Kelly of Wealth Enhancers, has written on this issue and say people need to realise the severity of this problem in Australia.
I want people to realise that this means we are constantly discriminating against women, against Gen Y and Gen X, and also people from Asian backgrounds, even those these demographic groups make up the majority of Australia.
If there was ever a reason to highlight that we have a problem, it would be right now where we have clear lack of leadership and smart decision-making capability in a lot of companies, political parties and organisations.
Speaking to the Australian Institute of Company Directors in October, Cathy Harris, NRL commissioner and chair of the privately-owned food retailer Harris Farm, said companies are missing out if they don’t have a woman on the board of directors.
“If you look at an organisation that doesn’t have a woman on the board you have to ask yourself are they selecting on merit,” she said.
“It’s never going to be a good business decision to have a male-dominated organisation because you are not getting the breadth of the potential fans, volunteers, people watching it”. Read more on that here.
But unfortunately Australian women are up against some strong unconscious bias.
According to Gemma Munro, the managing director of Inkling Women, an Australian leadership and coaching organisation dedicated to inspiring female leaders at executive levels, women “have inherited a model of organisation that has its roots in masculinity and hierarchy and competition.
“It is a harder environment for women to negotiate, there are also some very clear unconscious bias and double standards show towards women,” she said.
“For instance if you get a CV with Daniel on the top and another CV which is exactly with same but with Danielle on the top, and you show them to two random sample groups, Daniel is shown to be significantly more promotable. Daniel is given a significantly higher nominal salary and he is seen as more assertive, where as Danielle is seen as more aggressive.”
Earlier in the year it was revealed in a study that 60% of Australian businessmen believe women have the same career opportunities as they do but are failing to make the most of what’s available to them. Their belief was that less women are making the move into leadership roles because “they have difficulty juggling work/life commitments, lack qualifications and are less ambitious”. Read more on that here.
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