Wanted: women to front blokey boards during AGM season

October 11, 2010

Dear corporate women plus some other interested parties and Mayne Report readers,

The AGM season for public companies with June 30 balance dates has begun and the next seven weeks presents a unique opportunity to target several hundred ASX-listed companies with no female directors.

I'm on the register of 700 public companies with tiny holdings averaging $50 each. However, I won't have the time or resources to get around to many AGMs and prosecute the gender diversity case in a similar way to what the likes of David Jones, Seek and NAB received in the past as you can see in this package.

Really taking it to the all bloke boards

Therefore, it would be great if some of you could help find people to attend corporate AGMs across the country as my proxy. The basic message to each chairman needs to be conveyed as follows:

Mr Chairman, there have been a number of studies which show that boards with greater diversity deliver better results. What steps have you taken to end your board being a no go zone for women? Okay, well let's be clear about this, if you haven't announced the appointment of a female director by July 1 next year, there will be an external candidate running for your board at the 2011 AGM on a platform opposing mono-cultural, male only boards. There is a lot of great female talent out there which public company boards are not utilising and you cannot argue that men represent 90% of the best candidates for such positions.

Whilst all this might sounds a little bit Bolshie, I've found after 40 ASX-listed board tilts that the mere prospect of a contested election often delivers results.

Taking Feminisn has Failed arguments to the floor or AGMs

The arguments in support of such an aggressive approach were spelt out in the recent Intelligent Squared Debate at the Melbourne Town Hall. I was the only bloke arguing in front of more than 1000 women that "Feminism has Failed" and when you consider the facts as they stand, it really is time that something more direct is done. Click on the video below from The Wheeler Centre website and hopefully you'll be up for the fight too:

Where are all the women?

Sushi Das, the women in charge of The Age's opinion pages for the past couple of weeks, attended the Feminism has Failed debate and made contact the next day to commission this piece headlined "Where are all the women?" which ran as the lead item on September 30.

Fairfax doesn't usually attract many comments at the end of its stories so it was instructive to surf through the 54 posts that emerged. There are plenty of neanderthal blokes still out there, even surfing the Fairfax sites.

Egon Zehnder did not enjoy the reference in The Age to their head hunting firm being one of the five global majors which has never had a female head of its Australian practice.

However, it should be pointed out that globally almost a quarter of its consultants are female and in Australia this figure is 45% with two thirds of the more recent hirings being women. Also, while the Australian practice has not been run by a woman, American Jane Allen did head Egon Zehnder's Sydney practice for a few years and a women has also headed its biggest office in London.

In Australia approximately 16% of Egon Zehnder's data base are female which at one level reflects the executive community but it is also too low. Despite this, over the past six years a quarter of its non-executive director assignments have closed on females.

The challenge now is to force all those remaining male only boards to commission the likes of Egon Zehnder to specifically source at least one new female director so that the overall figure for public company female board representation quickly marches towards 20% from its present level of just 10%.

Updating the ranking of top male and female directors

As a shareholder activist concerned about Australia's relatively poor performance in the public company space over the past few decades, the last thing I want to be associated with is dud new directors being appointed.

Whilst the biggest challenge for investors is removing poorly performing old blokes from boards, the infusion of new female directors must be tough, talented and strategic.

And it is not fair to call for female directors to be appointed without getting into the detail or who is available and who has talent to offer.

Therefore, I spent a few hours over the weekend updating this list ranking the top 100 female directors in the public company space. A similar update to a list ranking the top male directors will be completed in the coming weeks.

However, another key part of the challenge is to find new talented women to join public company boards. It shouldn't just be the same old names getting recycled.

We're going to start a list called "future female directors" and if you of know anyone who should be on it (including yourself if a second career as a director sounds appealing), please drop us a confidential line to Stephen@maynereport.com.

We're also going to start following female directors more pro-actively in the public sector and not for profit space, as this is the most obvious recruiting zone for public company chairs. Check out this list tracking the gender diversity of boards revealed in the recent deluge of Victorian government annual reports.

Similarly, we recently critiqued AFL boards and discovered six clubs with no women and only 12 in total across all 18 clubs. Check out that research here.

Diversity Council and ASX female director urge action

There is unprecedented attention at the moment on the issue of women on boards. A whole range of groups are getting involved and this email which arrived last week is a good example of some of the action being taken:

Boards of ASX listed companies must take seriously the new ASX Council reporting recommendations on diversity, a forum of 'early adopting' listed companies heard.

The ASX Corporate Governance Council has introduced a requirement for listed companies to adopt and disclose a diversity policy and measurable objectives relating to gender or explain why they have not done so.

Jillian Segal AM, Director ASX Ltd, who spoke at the Early Adopters Network meeting last week organised by the ASX and Diversity Council Australia to discuss the new recommendations, said companies need to do their due diligence:

"It is a serious project that needs careful planning and execution, and there will be reputational consequences of not getting it right. The ASX will be monitoring what companies disclose and will report on overall trends. The government and the community may expect more stringent requirements if this voluntary approach is not embraced by the business community," said Jillian.

But it's not all negative added Jillian:

"There will be benefits to companies who move on this early. Those that can tap into the wealth of female talent will be more competitive," said Jillian.

Nareen Young, DCA's CEO, believes organisations that are not publicly listed companies should also take note:

"What listed companies are required to do is creating renewed momentum and a new business and workplace community standard in Australia. Purchasing and other decisions will increasingly be made on community assessment about organisations' commitment to gender diversity - and there is no doubt that other diversity dimensions will follow," said Nareen.

At the event, listed companies discussed a variety of approaches to preparing to report:

  • Look beyond gender to other aspects of diversity;
  • Consider conducting a diversity audit to understand the current state of the organisation and help set priorities for future action;
  • Consider setting short and long term objectives, although reporting on progress is annual;
  • Introduce comprehensive mechanisms to monitor progress;
  • Manage staff expectations;
  • Be clear about how you define 'senior executives' when reporting on representation at that level;
  • Be careful when creating reporting precedents;
  • Decide what will be included in the annual report and what will be communicated through other channels; and
  • Consider legal issues in collecting information and setting diversity targets.
ASX will provide education and resources to support listed companies in adopting the recommendations. For more information, email asxerp@asx.com.au or contact your ASX issuers adviser.

DCA is establishing an ASX Diversity Governance Network to assist companies in preparing. The network, for DCA members, will provide a forum for practical information and advice to be exchanged in a supportive environment. DCA has also collated a variety of resources for its members to help them prepare. If you are interested in participating in the forum and becoming a DCA member, contact us on sydney@dca.org.au or (02) 9035 2852.

The core Mayne Report mission - pressuring boards to change their ways

Rather than duplicating the excellent work of others, The Mayne Report needs to stay focused on what it does best: pressuring boards to change their behaviour.

It seems to me that direct AGM action is the major missing ingredient in a campaign which has already seen an encouraging increase in female appointments to ASX200 companies so far in 2010.

Therefore, here's a summary of the direct action I'm hoping to take on the issue at AGMs over the next two weeks:

CSL AGM: 10am, Melbourne Park, Wednesday, October 13
Challenge chairwoman Elizabeth Alexander on why she's failed to appoint a second female director during her 5 years in the job and point out that one female doing HR in the top 10 executive ranks is disappointing for the company behind Gardisel. Some of these points were made in the Feminism has Failed debate.

JB Hi Fi AGM: 11.30am, Abbottsford in Melbourne, Wednesday, October 13
Sure, you're financial performance has been great but what percentage of your staff and customers are female and if you haven't appointed a female by this time next year, a hostile candidate will nominate for the board at the 2011 AGM.

News Corp AGM: 10am, Hudson Theatre, New York, Friday, October 15
When is Rupert finally going to stop demeaning women with those page three girls in The Sun and surely he agrees that one female director and 13 blokes is hardly a balanced board.

McMillan Shakespeare: 10am, Hoyts Melbourne Central, October 19
You're a salary packaging company with no female directors. Would you like three women to nominate for the board next year or can you manage to appoint some new talent yourselves before then.

The Reject Shop: 3.30pm, Crown Plaza, Melbourne, October 20
A three man board is ridiculous. Appoint at least three new directors and why not make at least one a female.

PaperlinX: 11am, Jeff's Shed, Melbourne, October 22
You blokes have been paid far too much to manage this company poorly. Give someone else a go and work up some gender diversity at the same time.

Don't just read this, get active and find people to attend AGMs

The main problem with the above list is that our focus is primarily on Melbourne companies, save for a brief trip to New York later this week for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp AGM on Friday.

That's why we need volunteers to step forward with the names of people who could directly take on male only boards in other cities or where there are clashes, which is a common feature of any public company AGM season. Here is an example of those no women boards which at the moment won't be the subject of our attention at their AGMs over the next three weeks unless someone emails Stephen@maynereport.com with the details on who we can appoint as proxy:

Wednesday, October 27

Southern Cross Media Group: 10am, level 1, Hilton Hotel, George Street Sydney.
Envestra: 10am, Adelaide Convention Centre
Riversdale Mining: midday, Level 4, 60 Carrington Street, Sydney

Thursday, October 28

APA Group: 10.30am, City Recital Hall, Sydney
GWA International: 10.30am, Brisbane
Flight Centre: 10.30am, Customs House, Brisbane
Aquila Resources: Novotel, Perth.
Energy World Corporation: 2pm, Elizabeth Room, Royal Auto Club of Australia, Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Crane Group: 11am, The Mint, Sydney
Whitehaven Coal: 11am, Four Seasons Hotel, 199 George Street Sydney

Monday, November 1

Hastie Group:
10am, Adelaide Room, Level 4, Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, 61-101 Phillip Street, Sydney.

Wednesday, November 3

Transpacific Industries Group: 10am, Sebel and Citigate, Brisbane.

Thursday, November 4

Leighton Holdings:
10am, Darling Harbour
Prime Infrastructure: 11am, Wesley Theatre, Wesley Conference Centre, 220 Pitt Street Sydney.

Keep an eye on this master list of the AGM schedule because we're still going through a mountain of annual reports and notices of meeting as they come in. For instance, the likes of Fortescue Metals are still yet to name the date when their all blokes board gathers in Perth.

Raising lack of women on boards at AGMs

If anyone wants some background on how these gender diversity issues can be raised at AGMs, here are some audio files and transcripts from previous attempts to put pressure on boards:

SP Ausnet: Women on boards, Read Transcript.
July 14, 2010

OZ Minerals: Voting against the re-election of Brian Jamieson and calling for more gender diversity, Read Transcript
May 2010

Adelaide Brighton: Calling for new chairman to embrace gender diversity, Read Transcript.
May 2010

Axa-Asia Pacific: You need more women on your board, Read Transcript
May 2010

David Jones: why is Katie Lahey the only female director? Read Transcript
November 2009

Seek.com: how on earth can this board be blokes only?, Read Transcript
November 2009

Past Crikey stories on lack of female directors

NAB chair claims women not good enough
December 23, 2009

The blokes who should step aside
May 20, 2010

ABC radio chats about the lack of women on boards

Wednesday, October 6: discussing the Rio leak and women on boards.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010: discussing women on boards, 1st question time and Telstra.

Wednesday June 23, 2010: discussing women on boards, Kerry Stokes and China, IMF.

Wednesday May 19, 2010: mentioned two Adelaide companies with no female directors.

Friday November 6, 2009: speaking from Perth about the lack of women on boards.

Tuesday August 3, 2010 - discussing women on boards on 702 ABC Sydney.

Past Mayne Report editions covering women on boards

Murdoch AGM in New York, Vic public service, women on boards, Senate video, classic Cornwall, Tanner, pokies, Manningham politics, Rich List and much more
September 21, 2010

Pokies deal, Manningham, Fairfax, profit season, SPPs, women directors, Cornwall, Rich List, sovereign debt and then some
September 4, 2010

DJs, legislate women on boards, ex Lib goes no pokies, preferences, Pratt-Shorten, Labor's debt, AG's report, Manningham council audio and then some
August 3, 2010

Immigration, pokies, Babcock, Sing Inc, Cornwall, female directors, SP Ausnet, Rich List and much more
July 22, 2010

Gillard, DJs, women, pokies, tracking political staffers, director lists, Northern Metro, Rich List and much more
June 29, 2010

Director rankings, Rio, Westfield, New Matilda, MAP, Manningham, Paatsch, state election, Darebin, Moreland, rich list, pokies and much more
June 9, 2010

Top 100 women directors, Transurban, pokies, Axa AGM, Wallace EGM, Graham Bradley, Rich List and more
May 25, 2010

Question to Rudd, 7pm Project, GPT and Alumina AGMs, Cornwall, Stokes, Boart protest, Gary Morgan, director rankings, great new lists, Harvey Norman and much more
May 11, 2010

Delaying Seven, ranking directors, upcoming AGMs, Gunns, Woolies, Storm, Rich List, ASIC and more
April 26, 2010

Political relationships, pokies, Seven, Macquarie, female directors, Rich List, nursing home, Suncorp, water and more
March 28, 2010

A nice message from Meredith Burgmann

We've previously mentioned the AAP coverage of the Ernie awards for sexist commentary when we picked up a so-called "Good Ernie".

Meredith Burgmann, the Ernies founder and former Labor President of the NSW Legislative Council, explained the background in this recent email:

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 2010
From: Meredith
To: stephen@maynereport.com

Dear Stephen

I intended to write to you last week but had to go to NY for the UN conf on Poverty. Congratulations on winning the Good Ernie. There were 21 noms on the short list so it was a tough field. Keep up the great work re Women on Boards. The short history of the Good Ernie is that it used to be called the "Gareth" but after the whole Cheryl thing we asked for suggestions for a new name. The only man we could think of who was completely good was Sir William Deane but then we realised it would have been called the "Willie" which might be deemed inappropriate. So the boringly titled "Good Ernie" is yours for a year.

Meredith Burgmann

Help fund our activism

Finally, we spend about $100,000 a year on The Mayne Report so if you'd like to help fund our activism, why not buy a $50 Season Ticket through the link on the right hand side of our home page. Not only will you help a good cause, you'll receive exclusive email updates after AGMs for the rest of 2010. And if you know of any women who'd be interested in this campaign summary, clear here for the URL.

That's all for now.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

* The Mayne Report is a multi-media governance website published by shareholder activist, local government councillor and Crikey founder Stephen Mayne with regular email editions. To unsubscribe from this email list click here. Anyone can click here to join our email data base and receive free newsletters.