Make the vacancy in the boardrooms visible to all
Australian Financial Review
3 October 2006
The reason women aren't being appointed to boards isn't really a mystery. Women aren't joining boards because they are not aware of, or are not being offered, directorships. When potential female candidates (and there are plenty) fmd out about a vacancy, they are generally quick to apply.
Just ask Claire Braund, from the Women on Boards organisation. When the WOB website recently posted a vacancy on a mining company board, there were 500 hits in a couple of hours, and a number of women applied for the role.
WOB,which now has a subscription service, has 3000 members and, according to a recent survey of 500 of them, 37 per cent applied for a board role in the past year. FBAo58 A lot of the women members are on not-for-profit [boards] and want to step up," says Braund. "They want to, and are looking for these roles and, when the vacancies are there, these women are stepping up, and they have more than the capacity to rill these roles.
The results reveal the majority of the women who applied for board seats had been approached by a board directly, while methods such as recruiters and word of mouth were used by fewer women. But of those women who were appointed to a board in the past year, 8 per cent said that WOB helped them, according to the study, which was conducted around Australia last month. This was a surprise to the small team at WOB, and highlights the need for vacancies to be visible to a wider catchment "We've been online only three years now," Braund says.
"And it's absolutely fascinating to find 8 per cent of our members found us of material assistance in getting a board position. Many well- qualified women are keen to get a board position, but find it difficult to know what roles are available. This [survey] says to us this sort of small targeted networking is needed to get women onto boards."
"These women have more than the capacity to fill these roles."
Although companies are making more use of professional recruiters for board roles, Braund says the problem is these firms often use the same limited lists of candidates.
"Some of them [recruiters] are doing a good job, but over and over again we see that networks get people onto boards.
The recent census figures on women in leadership, released last month by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, showed the level of women on public company boards had barely changed in two years, up from 8.2 per cent in 2004 to just 8.7 per cent this year.
But WOB's survey shows the number of its members with multiple paid board positions has gone up by 85 per cent since a similar study last year, while the number of members with no board positions dropped by 10 per cent.
"That's happening for a couple of reasons," says Braund.
"WOB members are actually knocking on doors and WOB is giving them a strategy to get on a board. We tell them to be proactive and identify the sectors to target. And Braund agrees the findings also show that women who are able to get an initial paid directorship not only gain experience but become more visible, and are more likely to be appointed to other boards.
Networks are very important, says Braund. The big focus for WOB for the next year is to find ways to let women know about the board positions that are out there. And to put paid to the old myths that there are not enough educated and experienced women to choose from.
"We've got the good quality applicants -we don't have a problem with that. The calibre of the members is extraordinary. It's a matter of putting these opportunities forward."
No, this is not a problem of supply. It's those controlling the demand that are missing something, at the board level and senior management.
As ANZ chief executive John McFarlane said at a recent forum, companies are not advancing enough women into management, and it's perfectly clear men are failing at this because it's men who run companies.