Push for gender diversity at ASX's top companies gaining traction, says 40:40 Vision

Push for gender diversity at ASX's top companies gaining traction, says 40:40 Vision

HESTA CEO and 40:40 Vision chair Debby Blakey

The ground-breaking 40:40 Vision initiative, launched in 2020 by industry superannuation fund HESTA to get more women in senior executive roles at ASX-listed companies, is making its mark in the push towards gender diversity.

According to the inaugural progress report from 40:40 Vision, listed companies that have signed up to the program are advancing towards gender balance at a faster rate than ASX companies more broadly.

HESTA CEO Debby Blakey, who chairs 40:40 Vision, says target-setting has proven to be an effective tool in advancing the cause with companies focused on professional development, recruitment and succession planning.

"Gender diversity improves talent attraction, company culture, skillsets, team performance, and reputation," Blakey says.

"The results of a signatory survey show that 51 per cent of signatory companies have already achieved gender balance in their executive leadership teams (ELTs) compared to just 23 per cent of the ASX300. 

"It was also pleasing to see that of the 25 signatory companies who participated in the survey, more than 80 per cent have set interim gender targets for their ELTs, with most already achieving their interim goals.”

The 40:40 Vision initiative was established more than three years ago with the bold aim of achieving gender balance in executive leadership teams across all ASX300 companies by 2030. The term 40:40 stands for 40 per cent identifying as women, 40 per cent identifying as men and 20 per cent identifying as any gender.

The move is supported by industry partners who have a combined total of more than $6 trillion in assets under management.

In the survey to gauge progress of the scheme, all survey respondents say that diversity improves talent attraction, retention and company culture.  

More than 90 per cent say diversity delivers skillsets for future strategic needs, team performance, business results and company reputation, while challenging the status quo and fostering innovation.

However, the progress report finds that greater transparency and consistency in reporting is needed, as 25 per cent of survey respondents have not included their 40:40 Vision targets in annual or sustainability reports. 

The report also finds that about 36 per cent of ASX300 companies are yet to set gender composition targets, despite the benefits that diversity is said to offer their businesses.

HESTA has been exerting its influence as an institutional fund manager in this area by strengthening its voting policy at annual general meetings.

The policy allows it to include votes against select director elections at ASX300 companies where the board has less than 30 per cent female representation and against chairs of companies employing single-gender executive teams.

HESTA says this move is based on the evidence linking strong performance across a range of metrics by gender-diverse companies.

While Blakey acknowledges transformational change is ‘not easy’, particularly in traditionally male-dominated industries, she notes that it does create opportunities for businesses.

"We encourage companies to seek appropriate collaboration opportunities such as through industry bodies or diversity experts," she says.

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