The number of female chiefs leading ASX 200 companies has fallen in the last year to 10, the lowest in four years, according to new data.
The 2020 Chief Executive Women ASX 200 Senior Executive Census has shown the number of women reaching senior leadership positions in listed companies has flatlined in the last 12 months.
Out of 25 chief executive appointments in the last year, only one hire in the ASX 200 was a woman. Only three of 50 CEO appointments within ASX 200 companies in the last two years were women.
Only 30 companies, or 15 per cent of those listed in the ASX 200, have 40 to 60 per cent women on their executive leadership team, a slight rise from 12 per cent in 2019, but nearly double the number compared to four years ago.
Of the 25 CEOs appointed in the last year, 76 per cent came from line role positions with profit and loss responsibility, with a further 20 per cent coming from the role of chief financial officer.
But nearly two-thirds of ASX 200 companies were found to have no women in roles with profit and loss responsibility in their executive leadership team, increasing from 57 per cent of companies in 2019. Interestingly, one company was noted as having no men in its executive line roles.
The telecommunications sector had the highest proportion of women in line roles with profit and loss responsibility, with 24 per cent of the positions occupied by women, double the ASX 200 average of 12 per cent.
In industries with a predominantly female workforce, such as healthcare, there was large under-representation in roles with profit and loss responsibility, with only 5 per cent of leadership line roles in healthcare companies in the ASX 200 filled by women, down from 15 per cent four years ago.
The number of women in chief financial officer roles had stayed flat on the year before, after growing over the course of a few years, from 9 per cent in 2017 to 16 per cent in 2020.
Recent research from Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and the Australian government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency has demonstrated a link between higher company productivity and profitability between greater female representation in executive roles.
The CEW census has called upon ASX companies to act, including initiatives such as holding teams accountable for diversity targets and pay inequality, reducing gender bias in recruitment and promotion processes, having clear succession planning (particularly for profit and loss responsibility roles) and allowing flexible working arrangements.
The group has also urged the government to invest in making childcare more accessible in the federal budget that is being dropped in October.
Chief Executive Women president Sue Morphet said business leaders should be focusing on practical and immediate action, such as holding teams accountable, if they are to see results.
“We know that if businesses take immediate action to remove systemic barriers for women, particularly in career-forming years, they will see the most talented and qualified people appointed to senior positions which will benefit their company performance, and their bottom line,” Ms Morphet said.
“Companies have been forced to think differently about how they operate and what the future looks like as a result of COVID-19 – now is the moment to use every opportunity to improve company results and support strong economic recovery.”
Agathe Gross, partner at global management consultant Bain & Company also weighed in, commenting diversity at the top level will not improve without boosting representation in line roles.
“In companies that have achieved or improved gender balance in line roles, we see some common actions: providing access to flexible working arrangements, having strong parental support programs and providing women with the relevant career experience required to thrive and progress in leadership roles,” Ms Gross said.
Kerri Burgess, consultant and practice leader at global executive and leadership firm Spencer Stuart added organisations and leaders should be aware of their unconscious biases.
“Broadening candidate slates to deliberately include more women, gathering recent, consistent and objective data on the capabilities and future potential of all candidates and selecting hiring teams that include more females are some of the ways to begin to remove the subjective biases in candidate assessment and selection processes that can disadvantage women,” Ms Burgess said.
Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth.
Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio.
You can contact her on [email protected].