Prof. Peta Spender

Gender Quotas on Boards – Is it Time for Australia to Act?

Corporations are critical actors in the public sphere and their directors influence public debate and access to resources.  Therefore the representation on women on boards is a measure of women’s democratic leadership as well as their economic participation.
The percentage of women on ASX 200 boards is currently (end of April 2014) 18.0%, rising from 10.7% in December 2010.  By comparison, 41% of Australian Government board positions were held by women as at 30 June 2013, exceeding the 40% target by 2015 set by the Federal government in 2010.
When considering the progress of women onto corporate boards in Australia, some commentators focus on what has been achieved by soft strategies involving the persuasion of market actors and note the collaborative effort of listed companies, markets, investors, business groups and NGOs.   Others lament the ‘glacial’ progress and lobby for coercive measures such as legislation for quotas.
Although quotas were a radical change when first introduced by Norway in 2006, the legislation was preceded by nearly 8 years of consultation and dialogue with the private sector to encourage voluntary compliance.  Now the appetite for gender diversity on boards is strong and global in its reach and quotas are commonplace across many economies and jurisdictions.
Has the time arrived for Australia to introduce gender quotas for boards?  If so, how would such a change be implemented and what sanctions might be imposed for failure to achieve the targets?