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‘Staggering’ step backwards for gender equality at ASX companies

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Fewer companies now have gender-balanced senior leadership teams while the number of women CEOs has remained unchanged.

Only 50 companies in the ASX 300 have achieved gender balance in their executive leadership teams, down from 58 companies a year ago.

Furthermore, the number of companies with no women at all in their executive leadership teams has increased from 44 to 47 during the past year.

The findings come from the latest senior executive census by Chief Executive Women (CEW) which estimated that, at the current rate, it will take 100 years until women make up at least 40 per cent of all CEO positions at ASX 300 companies.

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“In light of the recommendations from the Jobs and Skills Summit, and the critical job shortages across the economy, it is staggering to see the stalling, or reversal, of women’s representation on leadership teams in many companies,” said CEW president, Sam Mostyn.

“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 (businesses) to take purposeful, immediate action and for investors to demand gender-balanced leadership teams at the companies they invest in.”

There are currently 18 women CEOs in the ASX 300, unchanged compared to 2021, while just 4 of the 28 CEO appointments made in the past year were women.

Women hold 27 per cent of executive leadership roles and only 15 per cent of line roles with profit and loss responsibilities, roles which are seen as a traditional pathway to becoming CEO.

CEW’s estimates suggest that it would take 36 years until there is a 40:40:20 gender balance in line management leadership roles at ASX 300 companies.

While ASX 100 companies were said to be more likely to appoint women to their executive leadership teams, 49 per cent of these companies, and 61 per cent in the broader ASX 300, do not currently have a single woman in line roles.

“Our census shows that our best-performing companies are more likely to have set and achieved gender balance than companies lower in the ASX 300,” said Ms Mostyn.

“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.”

Despite the significant setbacks, some progress has been made towards achieving gender balance, including a 2 per cent increase in the proportion of functional roles held by women.

There has also been a 7 per cent increase in companies setting gender balance targets over the past year. Targets have now been implemented by 51 per cent of the ASX 100 and 36 per cent of the ASX 300.

“It’s wonderful that more companies are now setting targets to achieve gender balance in executive leadership teams, because targets work,” commented HESTA CEO, Debby Blakey.

“Investors are encouraging companies to shift from talking about improving gender equality to backing that with action by committing to numerical, time-bound targets on this very important issue because we know better gender balance means better financial performance, better governance and stronger long-term company value.”

CEW has proposed a number of actions for businesses to take including setting and monitoring gender balance targets, reducing gender bias in recruitment and promotion processes and investing in building a pipeline of women leaders.

Investors have also been encouraged to embed a gender lens in their investment processes while urging companies to set targets with clear timeframes, implement policies to enable gender equality and provide greater disclosure on gender equality issues.

“This year, Australia has a choice. We can continue to hope for the incremental progress of women into leadership; or we can be bold, set purposeful targets, be accountable and harness one of our greatest opportunities for success,” concluded Ms Mostyn.

‘Staggering’ step backwards for gender equality at ASX companies

Fewer companies now have gender-balanced senior leadership teams while the number of women CEOs has remained unchanged.

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Jon Bragg

Jon Bragg

Jon Bragg is a journalist for Momentum Media's Investor Daily, nestegg and ifa. He enjoys writing about a wide variety of financial topics and issues and exploring the many implications they have on all aspects of life.

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