– By Jane Jose –
22 April 2010 – It is likely that a move by the Business Council of Australia to see a quota introduced to ensure greater diversity in the board rooms of Australia will sharpen the focus of the ASX top 200 companies on sustainability.
Corporate Social Responsibility, often in the form of policies or plans with indicators and KPIs, has been present in the strategies of many of Australia’s top companies since at least the early 1990s. Given this, it is strange that the upper layers of corporate Australia have manifestly underperformed in realising the goal of achieving diversity and gender balance at both executive and board level.
Corporate Social Responsibility surely involves supporting diversity and striving for gender equity. Australia has a pool of well educated women: 51 per cent of women now have higher tertiary qualifications than men and yet make up only 45 per cent of the Australian workforce.
Improving diversity at the upper levels of corporate Australia is also likely to do much to advance the cause of sustainability.
Achieving a more sustainable workplace, household, community, economy or environment is complex. It is about taking a more connected approach to planning, decision-making and problem solving. It’s often about communication, education and changing behaviour.
Sustainability solutions are mostly about changing the way we do things and the combined impact of many changes making a big difference. Sustainability comes about through a complex series of actions not a one step process. Women as friends, nurturers, carers, wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters understand complexity and care deeply about the future of sustainability. Women leaders also tend to be strong communicators.
Just a quick look at Australian sustainability champions and it is evident that the list is top heavy with women. Minister Penny Wong , Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore , City of Sydney chief executive officer Monica Barone, global head of sustainability at Lend Lease Maria Atkinson, sustainability leader at Stockland Siobhan Toohill, ‘’green” architect and sustainability commentator and Al Gore Ambassador Caroline Pidcock; Clinton climate change director Jenny Bonnin; chair of the federal government Innovation Council for the Built Environment Sue Holliday; chief executive officer of the Green Building Council Romilly Madew, are just a few of the high profile women who continue to lead and implement policies for a more sustainable future in the built environment.
Imagine what a difference it could make to the focus on sustainability if the percentage of executive women and women on boards increased to 40per cent from the current abysmal figure of 8.3 per cent in 2008. In a number
count taken in 2009 by the Women on Boards Group just 106 female directors sat on the boards of the ASX top 200 companies. That’s 106 in a population of 22 million.
Speaking recently on a panel about the issue of women on boards, the impressive and passionate Equal Opportunity Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick tossed a challenge to chairman of the Business Council of Australia and leading ASX company director, Graeme Bradley, to lead the charge and aim for a minimum 20 per cent target for women on boards. That, Ms Broderick, said would only mean identifying only another175 women leaders.
If the handful of effective women listed above have been able to lead transformational change in public policy for sustainability, imagine the impact of an additional 175 on the ASX 200 boards!
In my career as a company director and consultant over the past 20 years creating a more sustainable future has always been at the heart of my agenda.
Leading the heritage debate as Deputy Lord Mayor of Adelaide 20 years ago was in no small part driven by a concern for the future that my two young sons would inherit – by a sense of being a custodian, by recognising that to retain and recycle buildings can create a sense of place and belonging that is fundamental to supporting sustainable and strong community life. The historic centre of Adelaide is better for keeping its parks free of development and its built heritage functional and relevant.
Twenty on in 2004 I was appointed to the Central Sydney Planning Committee and began an engagement with the issue of making the villages of Sydney more liveable and sustainable places through design and planning policy. This platform was the base that enabled me to later work on developing the L
ocal Action Plans as a new policy initiative for City Council and the on the Sustainable Sydney 2030 vision, a key document to drive sustainability.
A few years ago as a director of the Adelaide Convention Centre, I encouraged the development of an environmental strategy. The Centre now leads in marketing green conferences and has a reduced carbon footprint.
The need to conserve resources, to nurture, to keep the complex simple, is the default position for busy, professional women. As a woman who hit professional life in the age of affirmative action and feminism of the late 70s I have in many of my professional board roles been the first woman in the room. I have seen how my thinking, questions and take on things have enabled the men in the room to see things through a different lens. It hasn’t always been easy, but it does get easier when you are not just one but two in a boardroom of men.
Next year will be the centenary of the first International Women’s day. Achievement of 20 per cent of women on ASX 200 boards has been suggested as a worthy goal. If you are reading this website with an interest in a sustainable future and are a company director or close to one- make a case for a woman to join your executive or board. It will be a sure step to a more sustainable future.
Jane Jose is an associate of Elton Consulting,which provides strategic advice and policy development for more sustainable communities to governments, corporate and not-for-profit clients local , state and federal government, corporate and not for profit clients.