Why is Katie Lahey the only female director?

August 2, 2010

Transcript from the 2009 David Jones AGM raising the question of women on boards.

Stephen Mayne: Mr chairman I'd like to support the re-election of Katie Lahey to the board. But simply have a dip at all you other blokes on the board, and point out that it is a disgrace that women only represent 8% of directors of Australian major company boards. If there is one company in the top 50, that should have a solid population of females on its board - it's this one.

A clear majority of your employees are female. A clear majority of your customers are female, and yet you sit here with a typical board - the banker, the lawyer, the accountant. You have one retailer in Reg Clairs. I agree that John Coates has a particular property expertise, but I can't believe that this board hasn't actually got that issue right.

In terms of how you represent yourself to the community, you should be progressive on this issue. Three of your top 9 executives are female, and I often think that it is worse to have one female, than none. To have one only, you should have at least 2 females on a board like David Jones to get that diversity of perspective, and I would be interested in hearing from Katie as to how she has felt being the only female inside a boardroom, which relies on females as its employee base and its customers like no other major listed company.

If Just Jeans, before Solly Lew took it over, could have 4 female directors, why on earth can't David Jones get with that program and be more modern, in terms of the way it populates its board?

Chairman Bob Savage: would you like to comment Katie?

Katie Lahey: just to say that I agree that, that is one of the issues that the rem and nom committees have been looking at. We've been looking at the selection of future directors, and obviously gender is a very important part of that, but as the chairman said there are other issues to be taken into account - the geographic base, the skill-set. But the issue about women on boards is becoming a very hot topic in the community now, I am pleased to say, is getting a lot of conversation both at the government level, chair level, board level, and I think we'll start to see some changes from the 8.3% of females on top listed boards, I doubt that we will get to the Norweigan level of 40%, but we've got, I feel, community interest in this topic now and I think we'll start to see some changes.

Chairman Bob Savage: Do you want me to comment?

Stephen Mayne: yes please!

Chairman: as I said earlier in the meeting, when somebody raised this issue earlier on, this is not for the want of trying. We are looking for people at present. We do have a profile of the type of people we need to have on the board, and the skill-set they have to have. I think there are two issues here. One is, what skill-set do you need to have to deliver a particular set of results and outcomes and the mandates of business for the shareholders, and secondly, what do you do about gender balance, and sometimes the two of those are in conflict - it is as simple as that!

But, we had 2 female members of our board for a long period of time. Two of them over time chose to retire - one in 2003 and one in 2006 or 2007, if I remember correctly. And we didn't appoint another person to the board for 2 years. One of the reasons for that was we were looking for the person with the right skill-set. We spent a long time looking for the person that had the right skill-set and the right gender. But in the end we appointed Peter Mason who I believe was the best qualified person with a set of skills that we needed at that point in time.

As Katie says, we are looking at this at present, it's something which needs to be addressed, but it needs to be addressed in ways other than just appointing people to boards. There needs to be mentoring programs, there needs to be programs that bring people like our senior executives from our own organisation, up through into the next level of positions, and find them the opportunities at different points in time, for them to take roles like that. Not necessarily in our own company because we have 2 executive directors already, but there's a lot of things I think could be done to foster a much broader pool that exists at present in this particular area.