Supporting women to realise their full leadership capability is essential not only for gender equality, but also to promote successful and sustainable business in Australia.
With just 29.7% of ASX 200 Board roles represented by women, it’s clear more work needs to be done to break down existing barriers and support women leaders to access – and be equipped for – non executive leadership positions. Together with the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), Women in Focus is working to shift the dial for women in business from the top down.
The business case for gender equality
There is significant evidence to demonstrate the positive impacts on company performance of female representation on boards. In a report published by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) in November 2018, it was noted that increased gender diversity on boards and senior executive positions is associated with better financial performance.
Jackie McArthur, an Independent Non Executive Director with more than 20 years’ experience at executive and board level, has seen firsthand how a board that embraces diversity of all kinds performs at a heightened level. This includes diverse skill sets, which she believes are in increasingly high demand. “I’m an engineer by trade who has led big supply chain and procurement systems globally… change management and technology solutions are a theme as well,” Jackie says. “Previously, these may not have been considered key skill sets to take you into a board career, yet in every board role I have been approached to consider, they were specifically mentioned,” she says. “Greater demand for diversity of skills on Boards is opening the door to many more people of diverse backgrounds, and more women.”
Supporting women to excel together
Supporting the next wave of women leaders, Women in Focus has partnered with the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) to offer the Women Leaders Excelling Together: AICD Company Directors Course™ program, providing women with the skills, knowledge and support to access, and be equipped for, Board directorship roles.
Launched in 2018, the program provides a unique opportunity for women leaders to further their directorship skills and knowledge of governance issues. “Both AICD and Women in Focus share the belief that we have a leadership role to play in Australia to improve diversity at Board level,” says Emma McDonald, Strategic & Innovation Director at Women in Focus. “By providing our Women in Focus community with access to the AICD Company Director’s Course™ in a supportive and immersive learning environment, we can together ensure corporate Australia has a solid pool to draw Board talent and experience from.”
Jane McNally, who is the CEO of Australian fashion label Camilla, says participating in the course helped to consolidate and refine her existing leadership skills. “Sharing such an intense experience with a group of like-minded females was very empowering and it showed me absolute best practise and standards in the Australian fiduciary environment,” Jane says. “Since completing the course, we’ve made several immediate tweaks to board agendas and minutes, and become much more aware of important governance elements to note, as well as optimal board composition.”
A brighter future for women leaders
With the introduction of meaningful collaborations and learning programs such as the Women Leaders Excelling Together: AICD Company Directors Course™, Women in Focus believes that we can – and will – achieve greater diversity of leadership across the business landscape.
Having successfully completed the course, Jane believes she will be well positioned to take on non-executive roles in future. “My hope is to become an insightful and supportive non-executive director,” she says. “I hope that my experience to date means that I will have something to add to the non-executive governing of high-growth or turnaround businesses in future,” she says.
Emma, who also completed the course, believes it represents an important step towards creating gender equality in business. “It makes me both hopeful for the future and incredibly proud that we are contributing to building a more diverse and inclusive society,” she says. “A society we can all participate in.”
 Percentage as at 31 December 2018, based on the December 2018 Quarterly Rebalance of the S&P/ASX Indices.
 Research cited in the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)'s The Business Case for Gender Equality report, published November 2018.
 Since this article was published, Emma McDonald began working under Global Regulatory Relations for CommBank.