Women on boardsBy Bond University Jun 30, 2010 10:28AM UTC
Last weekend I graduated with a Ph.D. from Bond University. The graduation ceremony itself was monumental – the culmination of three years of sheer intellectual and physical effort, and not just on my part, but also on the part of my partner, my children, my friends and academic supervisor, and so many others who supported me in the Ph.D. journey. The celebrations afterwards were jubilant – with graduates, their families and friends alongside academic staff milling about on the university grounds, and all buzzing with a shared sense of achievement and pride.
When I reflected later on various aspects of the day, I came to think more deeply about the keynote address given at the graduation ceremony by Australian business leader, Kevin McCann. McCann, an active participant in corporate Australia, and non executive director on a range of company boards from Origin Energy Limited, and Bluescope Steel Limited to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust chose that opportunity to share his concern about the very stark absence of women on Australia’s corporate boards.
I was a little surprised that this was the topic for such a keynote address. Looking around the room at the array of graduands, it seemed that the gender mix was in fact about equal across disciplines. And yet, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. As McCann pointed out, women only make up a meagre seven percent of Australian corporate directorships, and while statistics in this area are notoriously patchy, this represents a drop of about two percent over the past 10 years.
The topic of ‘women on boards’ has attracted much rhetoric over the years, yet McCann’s words had substance behind them, of which more than a few in the audience took note – even in the midst of graduation. McCann is one of a group of 10 leading Australian businessmen who together, are leveraging their significant influence and mobilising for change at the board table. Working with organisations like the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Business Council of Australia, these business leaders are driving new strategies, including the targeted and tangible mentoring of women into senior decision-making positions in the corporate world.
The challenges that stand in the way of sustaining and delivering that robust diversity into Australia’s corporate world are by no means trivial. They are bound in a complex tangle of social, political, economic, cultural dilemmas and tensions of modern life. To date, the will and motivation for unravelling that tangle has been insufficient. However, corporate leaders, with some pressure from the Australian Stock Exchange now recognise that it is increasingly bad for business if things don’t change. To be clear, this is not just an issue about getting women onto boards. More so, it is an issue of better, resilient and competitive decision-making and governance, where Australian company boards more accurately reflect the diverse workplaces, communities and marketplaces they serve.
The selection of McCann to deliver this keynote address was an inspiring and deliberate choice. Here is a man who is involved at the highest levels of decision-making and influence in corporate Australia delivering a clear and simple message – that diversity of thought and experience is important for Australia’s future. This is a message that resonates with the Bond University ethos and my Bond experience, and now provides a superb launching point for our aspiring graduates.
Dr. Caitlin Byrne – Assistant Professor, International Relations