/ SEP 10, 2014 14:26PM
It would be nice to think a prominent woman could ring the bell at the stock exchange without it being heralded as something extraordinary.
Unfortunately, trading is still seen as predominantly a man’s game so there was quite a turnout at the ASX in Sydney this morning to witness Irene Natividad, Chair of Corporate Women Directors International, do the honours.
Practising what she preaches, that is the empowerment of all women, Natividad encouraged all the females in the room including Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick to join her for the ceremonial ringing at 10am, exclaiming “I hope the market goes up!”
At the time of writing, the ASX 200 was in fact down 0.6%, but let’s not blame that on gender.
American Natividad is well practised at bell-ringing. The CWDI has opened trade at 13 other exchanges around the world including Hong Kong, Zurich, Istanbul and the NASDAQ in New York.
“It’s just as important for women (to be at the exchange) as men who come here more frequently,” she said. “If we’re not here, it’s as if we don’t belong…and we do.”
Following the bell ringing, Natividad joined Broderick and Aurizon CEO Lance Hockridge, along with former IBM Australia Chief Andrew Stevens to discuss the issue of women on boards.
Hockridge and Stevens are part of Broderick’s ‘club’ – Male Champions of Change – which aims to accelerate the advancement of females in leadership roles.
Natividad praised the ASX as having a comprehensive approach to gender balance with 98% of the companies which make up the ASX 200 instilling a diversity policy on boards.
She called it the “gold standard” for stock markets around the world, however cites more improvement is needed.
CWDI research shows 18.3% of all board seats are held by women in Australia, compared to 16.9% in the US.
“18.3% is not parity…we have a long way to go.”
“I’m a bit disappointed,” said ASX Chair Rick Holliday-Smith, who says we almost need to rewrite the rule book and ensure outdated views on women in leadership roles become extinct.
The percentage of women on boards in Fortune 200’s list of the best performing companies worldwide is 17.3%. It’s increased by less than 1% annually over the past decade.
“Glory hallelujah,” said Natividad with sarcasm. “It’s pathetic.”
What’s more worrying according to the CWDI report is the fact the top three economic powerhouses – the US, China and Japan – are actually falling behind in terms of board representation. Over the past 10 years they have seen a decline in women on boards while other nations have been improving the gender imbalance.
Natividad says we need a “country, not company” approach to ensure balanced board representation.
“If the UAE can do it, (any country) can do it.”
Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil is the only company in the Fortune rankings which has equal representation on its board.
Australia’s Woolworths ties for 9th place with a third of its nine directors female.
“Once you reach three or more, no-one cares anymore,” says Natividad, “you’re just a board member.”
Lance Hockridge admits Aurizon is one of the most “quintessentially blokey environments” in the country. Yet he’s committed to board diversity, and ensuring his company promotes women.
“This is not a women’s issue, it’s not a men’s issue. It’s an issue of leadership.”
Hockridge, Broderick and Stevens all admit societal change as well as a top-down approach from leadership is needed to ensure diversity within the workplace.
“It’s not about men speaking for women,” claimed Broderick. “It’s about men standing up beside us.”
“We need to move the needle for the nation,” said Stevens. He thinks one approach companies could adopt to ensure more women are represented in senior roles would be through financial incentives.
There has been a lot of criticism that quotas for women on boards simply ticks a box, and may not necessarily ensure the best person is being promoted.
“We don’t want women board directors,” implored Natividad. “We want board directors who happen to be women.”
ASX Chair Rick Holliday-Smith hopes the next 50 years will see far more advancement than the past 50 have in terms of gender diversity in business and Natividad agrees.
“We (women) are not where we were before, we are not where we want to be. We are not where we ought to be, but not where we have been,” she said.
Glory hallelujah, indeed.