IQ2 debate transcript - Feminism has failed

October 14, 2010

Stephen Mayne: Thanks chair. Well it is all very well to drive a tram, but women aren't exactly running the corporate world are they?

I mean think about it. I am in a debate tomorrow at the casino where they are complaining that business is taking over footy - and they're right!
Business is totally taking over footy. Business runs everything. Corporate interests dominate globally.

Look at the way the big mining interests were able to roll Kevin Rudd and change a big resources tax proposal. Business rules the world, and who runs business? Blokes.

It is all very well women getting 55% of graduates from the law firms, and the accounting firms, but only 10% of partners; only 3% of managing partners. I can't believe the big 5 headhunters in Australia, the big 5 international firms - the Egon Zenders of the world, who place people into these top jobs, have never had a female CEO in Australia in 40 years - since they've been in operation.

Now I only came to this women on boards issue, when I was sitting at the David Jones annual meeting last year on November 30, and I had been to 350 annual meetings as a shareholder activist at that point, and I never once raised the issue of women on boards. The feminists never came to me a said this is a shocker, you should get on to it.

I sat there and old lady got up and said that it would be nice to have more women on the David Jones board, and Katie Lahey - the only woman on the David Jones board, been there for 15 years, made a comment that it was a bit disappointing that women only represent 8.3% of public company boards in Australia, and it would be better if that maybe we were like Norway at 40% - through a quota system.

I was sitting back and suddenly thought this is unbelievable, so I got up and this is what I said " 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. I can't believe that this board hasn't actually got that issue right."

Now the bloke chairman, Bob Savage, with a smiling Mark McInnes sitting next to him, said we've got this covered and we are a really well run company and everything is absolutely terrific.

Little did we know that this most important, iconic, company for women, was being run by a lecherous pants man. Three months later they appointed a second director - Phillipa Stone, a corporate lawyer. Three months after that Mark McInnes was marched out the door with $2 million, and today, two McInnes proteges - CFO Paul Zahra and CFO Stephen Goddard, announce that profits are up 9% to 4171 million. that there was no noticeable drop in sales.

They didn't even mention Mark McInnes once in their 108 pages of stock exchange releases today. They were just going on, and the women of Australia have not stopped shopping David Jones.

Where are the feminists with their consumer power punishing this company, this blokey board, for letting this lecherous pants man run amok for far too many years.

I see these sorts of examples quite a bit at these public company AGMs. I remember being at the QBE insurance annual meeting in 2008, and John Cloney got up and said, the chairman said, 'This is history, this is the first time ever that 3 women have been elected to a public company board on the one day.'

When it came to their actual elections, I got up and said 'Would you mind if we heard from the women Mr Chairman?'

He said no, that wouldn't be appropriate - we're not going to hear from the women.

I want to regail you with the stats, because QBE is one of the better companies having 3 women on the board. There is only 3 ASX companies that have 3 women on the board - Perpetual, QBE Insurance and Westpac.

Pacific brands - Australia's biggest bra manufacturer, has 5, so they're the only company with 5, and then you fall back, you've got 35 top 200 companies with 2, 67 top 200 companies with 1, and 95 ASX top 200 companies with 0, and I'm just going to present the other side with a full print out of those 95.

So some of the big names - Asciano, Leighton holdings, Cochlear, Flight centre, Transfield, Transurban. It is not just small mining companies, you've got some of the biggest companies in Australia that have absolutely no women on the board.

Then of course you have AFL obsessed Melbourne, where there are 6 AFL clubs that have no women on the board - Adelaide, Carlton, Hawthorn, Richmond, St kilda and North Melbourne.

So there 130 AFL club directors who are blokes, and 11 who are women. It pervades all corners, not just in the public company space.

Even when you do get a successful woman on the board, they often abandon the sisterhood. A really good example is someone like Elizabeth Alexander who was appointed to the CSL board in 1991. CSL is our only successful international pharmaceutical company - cervical cancer, blood products, all that sort of stuff.

She was the only female right through from 1991 until 2006, then she was appointed chairman, and still, 4 years after being appointed chair, when she is the gatekeeper, there's still only one woman on the board; there's always been just one woman on the board, and there's nine other blokes on the board.

That then pervades the management culture. you have a look at the top ten managers at CSL - nine blokes and the usual one woman running HR. You always see that - the one woman running HR. That is the one job they give them.

I would to briefly talk about the media as well. Three of those companies of the 95 are media companies with no women on the board - APN News and Media, Austar, and Southern Cross media.

I am an old Newscorp newspaper reporter, and I remember going to the Newscorp AGM in 1999. At the time there were press reports in the paper saying that the London Sun - the biggest selling tabloid in the world, was getting rid of its page 3 girls.

I knew that the page 3 girls of the London sun had thrown off millions of dollars for newscorp shareholders, and financed Rupert's takeover of the world. So I got up in 1999 and said 'Rupert, that I've read the reports in the UK where you are looking at getting rid of the page 3 girls, I am a bit worried that this is going to hurt the cash flows, what are you going to do?'

He said 'Well, in all seriousness, society's standards and things move along, and we might have to make some changes. Then he joked, 'but if it hurts the cash flow, we'll bring them right back. And would you believe it, 11 years later, everyday, the London Sun; a page 3 girl. a topless woman standing there, in the biggest selling tabloid in the world, in a supposed sophisticated democracy like the UK.

You feminists, if you can't knock off page 3 girls in Britain, you have absolutely failed - I can tell you that much.

Have a look at the talk radio market in Melbourne. Melbourne is the most talk radio-centric market in the world. There is no other major city in the world, and Melbourne is a top 50 city, where talk radio has more than 30% share of all radio.

Name me one female voice you hear on MTR, on 3AW or on 774. There's only one - Lindy Burns on a Wednesday afternoon.

What about Newspaper editors?

Michelle Gratten had a stint on the Canberra Times. Gaye Alcorn, they give her one day a week with the Sunday Age. Jenny Cooper - one day a week on the Sunday Telegraph.

There has never been a female editor of a major, mainstream, Australian daily mass-market newspaper.

Newscorp, I'm going to see Rupert next month in New York for the AGM - 14 blokes, and one 29 year-old opera singer, who is the only female on the board who is the token representative of the Bancroft family, and he selected her because he knew that she would not have an impact, and she lives in Europe, and he runs the company from New York.

So these are the sorts of disgraceful situations that you still see in 2010, and I ask you a couple of other questions.

Have you ever heard of the expression 'the faceless women'?

Have you ever heard in the Labor party of a 'machine woman'?

There is always machine man and faceless men. At the end of the day, the people divi-ing up the power - headhunters, factional bosses, the corporate bosses who run the money are the blokes, and at the end of the day, if this country came within this far of appointing Tony Abbott prime minister, that in itself is a massive failure of feminism.