House debates

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Questions without Notice

Women in the Workplace

2:59 pm

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare and Minister for the Status of Women. What practical steps is the government taking to assure greater representation of women on Australian boards?

Photo of Kate EllisKate Ellis (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Chisholm for the question. Members might be aware that the 2010 census that was conducted by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency showed that just 8.4 per cent of board directorships in Australia’s top 200 companies are held by women. To put this in context, we can compare that figure with New Zealand, the UK, Canada, the US and South Africa and we find that Australia has the lowest percentages of women in our most senior corporate positions.

These figures are dreadful but they are not just bad news for women; they are bad news for business and they are bad news for our global competitiveness. It does not make good business sense not to be tapping into all of the skills, all of the expertise and all of the education that we possess, which is a fact that the Male Champions of Change group, who are working with our Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Liz Broderick, recognise as they work to spread the word within corporate Australia that in fact gender diversity is good news for business.

It is something that is also clearly demonstrated in the 2009 McKinsey report, which found that companies with three or more women in top management outperformed companies with no women executives on every single organisational and financial indicator. Apart from all these facts, it is also just plain wrong. We should not be supporting structures and cultures which block out women from our corporate boardrooms.

We are determined to see positive change when it comes to increased representation of women on both public sector boards and private sector boards. We made an election commitment to ensuring that by 2015 all government boards would have a minimum of 40 per cent representation of women and 40 per cent representation of men. I am pleased today to announce that this week we honoured another election commitment to the status of women when applications opened for the Board Diversity Scholarship Program under which 70 women will be provided with a scholarship to undertake key courses such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors company director course. In partnership with the AICD, this program is aimed at getting Australian women who have the skills, expertise and education a seat at the boardroom table. I encourage members opposite, whose commitment to women’s representation was shown when in fact their party went backwards in women’s representation in the parliament at the most recent election, to encourage women within their own electorates to apply for these scholarships, which can be found at, and then go to diversity scholarships.

As we work in partnership, sadly I am of the understanding it is in fact the first time since 1979 that the status of women is not represented in the shadow ministry as well as it is in the ministry. But we will continue to work with the private sector to ensure that women are not shut out of positions and that our corporate boardrooms show that the sorts of statistics we are seeing now are consigned to the past, which is where they belong.