As at the end of last year, only 12 of Australia’s top ASX 200 listed companies had a female chief executive. The arithmetic is very easy to do on that — it is 6%.
Supporters of affirmative action would rightly be appalled at that figure, and research shows that shareholders should be too.
According to new research from six years of reporting by 11,000 companies to Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), companies which appointed a female CEO have seen their market values increase by an average of 5%.
To the average ASX 200 company, that is quantified at an additional AUD 80 million in value.
The study also drilled further down and found that increasing the number of females in leadership positions by 10% or more also increased a company’s market valuation by 6.6%, or by AUD 105 million based on the ASX 200 average.
Much of this may have been touted before, but the Agency’s study is different because it uses historical data to quantify a financial difference in affirmative action.
There is also, according to the research, a significant and consistent gap between the performance of those companies which have no senior female management, and those which do.
Based on the ASX 200 benchmark, companies with more than a third of women in senior roles outperform the index by 19.3%, against an outperformance of 13.9% for companies with male only managers.
Companies with up to a quarter and up to a third of women managers also outperform male only managed companies.
The cost of lip service
In recent years, many corporates have also talked up the appointment of women to boards. But data from the Australian Institute of Company directors shows that among leading listed firms much of this talk has been cheap.
Of the ASX 200, only 34 have one female board member, and four companies have no women at all on their boards.
This is despite the research finding that companies which increased the number of female board members by 10% increased their market valuation by 4.9%.
The message from all this to corporate Australia is clear. Keeping it as a “boys’ club” is not only culturally backwards, but it goes against all evidence. In reality, it is costing shareholders profits the company should have made but haven’t because of entrenched sexism.
“If you are a member of a board or a CEO or executive and you don’t take notice of what this report is telling you, then you are not meeting your obligation to your shareholders or your owners,” Libby Lyons, chief executive officer at the WGEA, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“If I were a shareholder and there were no women and no diversity, I would be agitating big time right now. Because it’s irresponsible to shareholders to ignore a report such as this.”
Pandemic dials the clock back
The trouble is, the whole affirmative action movement in the wider economy is going backwards because of the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions. While women struggle to get to the top, they are too often also at the bottom.
The Government’s fiscal stimulus packages have focused on the male-dominated construction industry, while the female-dominated childcare industry — after receiving initial support — has been cut adrift.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, female job losses since mid-March have been 8.0%, and higher than the 6.3 percent for men.
Given the deep nature of the recession facing Australia, many older people in Australia are fearful that they will ever work again.
A recent survey by the Guardian put this number at one in ten, although it did not split the result by gender.
Women are becoming disadvantaged
What is clear, however, is that Australian women face retirement at a significant disadvantage to men, particularly if they are single.
The median balance in pension accounts for an Australian woman was AUD 45,000 for the 2018 financial year, against AUD 65,000 for men.
Even more alarming is homelessness among older women, with the number of homeless women aged 55 or over increasing by 31% to nearly 7,000, according to the last official Census in 2016.
So, to sum up, Australian women are far less likely to be chief executives, senior managers or board members than men, but they are more likely to be unemployed and unpaid during the COVID-19 disruptions.
They are also more likely to have less in retirement savings, and more likely to be homeless as they get older.
And some people say Australia is a modern economy and a liberal progressive society. If this happens here, then what is going on elsewhere in the world?
Photo credit: iStockphoto/solarseven