Women leadership equity undergoing continuous improvement except, apparently, in the board room

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) is an Australian Government statutory agency charged with promoting and improving gender equality in Australian workplaces in accordance with the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (the Act). In recent times the WGEA has greatly improved the robustness and usefulness of its data collection and analyses.

Its data and reports have subsequently provided good benchmarks for ASX listed companies, their boards, and more particularly their nomination and remuneration committees to assess performance in gender pay equity. At the very least, comparison against the benchmarks it provides can inform boards on the extent that management is effectively utilising available talent. Performance below competitive benchmarks suggests that management has not been effective in workforce utilisation.

It appears that boards have recognised the usefulness of the WGEA benchmarks. According to the Agency’s latest dataset, released 17 November, there has been a remarkable 10.8 percentage point rise over the past year in the proportion of employers analysing their remuneration data for gender pay gaps.

Even better is that there has been significant overall improvement in closing the gender pay gap. The bad news is that it is still there, at $26,000 per year per bloke in the workforce.

Disappointingly, there has been little change over the three years of reporting in the gender balance of Australia’s boardrooms. Men still dominate the faces around these top tables. While some would argue that female representation around the big table of 24.9% is pretty much in the top quartile of OECD countries, it has not moved in years. And it is not close to AICD target of 30% women (see HERE).

The WGEA suggests boards are not engaging with gender equality issues. Others may argue that we have run out of women. That is, once boards have sourced the legal and financial expertise from the ranks of the many great women professionals and leaders in the professions, their next vacancy requires specific industry expertise. There are just too many old white blokes with engineering, mining, construction, exploration, or technology company line experience who could be tapped, and, apparently, no women. This will be the contention in our Great Debate at our forthcoming director and investor Remuneration and Governance Forum (see HERE).

If, to an extent, there is some truth to the contention in our forthcoming Debate, the WGEA data also suggests that companies are actively seeking to redress the supply imbalance. Women are being promoted to manager roles at higher rates than previous years. Each year for the past 3 years there has been a higher proportion of women in the CEO role (currently 16.5%), or in the next reporting level (currently 29.7%). With 43.4% of manager appointments in 2016-17 going to women, gender balance in leadership is set to continue improving, although it may take a while.

Banks tend to promote the fact that they are putting more women into leadership jobs, yet financial services still have the highest gender pay gap at 31.9%. While the gap is declining year-on-year, financial services companies may need to consider promoting their women, and channelling more men into lower paid jobs.

See the WGEA report HERE.

© Guerdon Associates 2024
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