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Gender disparity persists on ASX boards despite progress

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By Jessica Penny
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3 minute read

A recent study of ASX companies points to an improving, yet ongoing under-representation of women in leadership positions.

ASX 300 boards have a greater proportion of female directors than ever before, but male chairs and chief executives continue to dominate, according to a recent Ownership Matters (OM) study.

Namely, female directors now hold a record 34.2 per cent of positions across the ASX 300, against just 9.6 per cent in 2005.

There are also no all-male boards remaining within the ASX 100 and within the ASX 200 two outliers, Core Lithium and De Grey Mining, both appointing their first female directors this year.

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However, OM pointed out that in the ASX 100 sample, there were only 10 female chairs and 13 female CEOs, with this figure falling to just three CEOs in the ASX101-200 and five in the ASX201-300.

By way of contrast, lower capitalised companies were more likely to trust a female chair, with nine in the ASX101-200 and 14 in the ASX201-300.

“Whilst more than one in three non-executive directors are now female, it is surprising that this cohort has still only produced 33 chairs across the largest 290 companies that we surveyed,” commented OM director Dean Paatsch.

“And of the 15 highest paid professional directors in 2022 who received more than $1 million in fees, only one female features. The men are allowing record numbers of female directors into the tent but are yet to meaningfully hand over the best paid chairing roles,” Mr Paatsch continued.

Specifically, only four of 290 sampled entities across the ASX 300 had a female chair and CEO – AMP, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, Lynas and Spark New Zealand.

Independent directorships surge

OM additionally found that non-executive directors now comprise 81.2 per cent of all ASX 300 directors, and of these, a record 93.1 per cent are independent in the ASX 100.

This was a dramatic change from a study that spanned from 2005 to 2020, which identified 1,777 ASX 300 executive directors, representing 30 per cent of the total pool over that period.

Meanwhile, there was a record low of non-executive directors losing their independent status by holding options or rights incentives similar to management, with just eight examples in the ASX 100 and ASX 200 during 2022.

“Non-executive directors with options or other leveraged incentives used to be very common 20 years ago but this practice has now pretty much been eliminated in the ASX 200, which is a substantial governance achievement for Australian public companies,” Mr Paatsch explained.

“When NEDs [non-executive director] sign-off on incentive schemes for management, they are now overwhelmingly not conflicted by being paid through similar schemes.”

However, OM noted that the lack of alignment between the interests of directors and shareholders remains a concern for investors.

“Investors broadly support the concept of NEDs having some ‘skin in the game’ through personal investments in ordinary shares which provide alignment with shareholders,” the governance advisory firm said.

Namely, there were still 50 ASX 100, 72 ASX 200, and 86 ASX 300 NEDs with no “skin in the game” at the time of sample, meaning they are receiving fees without having bought a single share.

Gender disparity persists on ASX boards despite progress

A recent study of ASX companies points to an improving, yet ongoing under-representation of women in leadership positions.

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