ASX300 gets “urgent wake-up call” as women executive numbers fall

ASX300 gets “urgent wake-up call” as women executive numbers fall

Photo: Marissa Grootes, via Unsplash.

New data from the 2022 Chief Executive Women Senior Executive Census (CEW Census) reveals gender equality is moving at a “glacial pace” in corporate Australia, with one in six ASX300 firms having no women in executive leadership teams.

The data shows there is also very little structural priming within executive teams for women to reach the pinnacle of CEO leadership as almost nine in 10 line roles - positions with profit and loss impact that often lead to CEO appointments - are held by men.

The census data also shows the number of women CEOs in Australia’s top companies has stagnated, remaining at 18 since last year.

In the report, CEW president Sam Mostyn says the results are an “urgent wake-up call” and that companies must act now. Otherwise it would take 100 years to reach gender parity in CEO positions.

“In this economic environment, it is vital that we enable women’s participation and leadership, one of Australia’s most available resources. We are calling for business to take purposeful, immediate action and for investors to demand gender-balanced leadership teams at the companies they invest in,” she said.

“Our Census shows that our best-performing companies are more likely to have set and achieved gender balance than companies lower in the ASX300. This reiterates what we already know – businesses achieve better results when there is gender balance. This is not just about equality – this is about smart economics and future productivity.”

On the upside, the report found that the number of companies setting gender-balanced targets grew by 7 per cent, with 51 per cent of ASX100 firms aiming for 40:40:20 (40 per cent men, 40 per cent women, 20 per cent any gender) in senior leadership teams. In addition, 36 per cent of ASX300 companies have set the same goal.

“It is promising to see that more companies are setting targets to reach gender balance in their executive teams…however, it is clear that Australian companies still have a lot more work to do to increase the number of women in line leadership roles, which is the most proven pathway to the CEO role,” Spencer Stuart senior director Kerri Burgess said.

To combat gender disparity, the CEW Census recommends that companies set and monitor gender targets for leadership and line roles, identify and grow internal talent and rigorously assess their recruitment process to reduce gender bias.

Investors have also been encouraged to embed a gender lens when making investment decisions, urge companies to set gender balance with clear timeframes and implement policies that enable gender equality.

The CEW Census also recommended the government deliver universal childhood education and care, expand paid parental leave scheme for all parents, ensure workplaces are safe from sexual harassment, and prioritise organisations with gender-balanced leadership in government procurement processes.

“The data trends show gender balance won’t be achieved unless mid-career retention strategies are in place and strong talent pipelines and opportunities, particularly in line areas, are created for women to accrue suitable experience throughout their careers so they’re ready to ‘step up’ into senior roles that typically act as ‘feeder roles’ when it comes to appointing CEOs,” Bain & Company partner Agathe Gross said.

Other key findings from the 2022 CEW Census include:

  • It will take 36 years – or until 2058 – before there is 40:40:20 gender balance in line management leadership roles.
  • Of 28 CEO appointments at ASX300 companies in the past year, only four were women.
  • Women are more likely to feature in the executive leadership teams of ASX100 companies, but almost half of ASX100 companies still have no women in roles with profit and loss responsibilities.
  • Sectors leading the way with women on executive leadership teams are Utilities and Communication Services.

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