Gender Diversity on Boards in Australia — Waiting for the Great Leap Forward?

17 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2014

Date Written: August 22, 2012


This article explores whether the progress of women onto boards in Australia continues to be ‘glacial’ and studies the cultural and structural determinants contributing to the undoubtedly slow progress.

The representation of women on boards should broadly reflect their workforce participation. This claim may be justified by their contribution as economic citizens but goes further. In particular, the role that women play on the boards of ASX 200 companies is a measure of women’s democratic leadership and low rates of representation undervalues civic participation by women. Conversely, justifications for higher rates of participation which are based on corporate performance are methodologically doubtful.

Cultural and structural determinants must be taken into account in deciding how, if at all, this area should be regulated. Debates about women on boards have focused on measures designed to achieve equality of access and across countries governmental approaches may be categorised as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’. Hard strategies involve more coercive means of achieving equality of outcomes such as legislation for affirmative action and quotas. The soft strategies involve persuasion of market actors to achieve equality of access. The development of these strategies also involves stakeholder engagement which may be classified as coercive e.g. legislation for quotas; liberal which promotes voluntary actions by corporate actors, and collaborative which involves co-operation amongst stakeholders.

Currently, the collaborative approach has been adopted in Australia. However, while there may be a slight uptick in the number of women on boards which might be attributed to private sector initiatives, the percentage of women on ASX 200 boards is still disappointingly low. Therefore, while voluntary activity might make a difference in the short term, more coercive measures might be required in the long term in order to address the structural impediments.

The debate about quotas should be reopened and this time it should be well-informed by taking into account the experience of other countries such as Norway which have embraced that option.

Keywords: corporate law, gender, quotas, diversity, boards, democratic leadership, economic citizenship

JEL Classification: K20, K22, J70

Suggested Citation

Spender, Peta, Gender Diversity on Boards in Australia — Waiting for the Great Leap Forward? (August 22, 2012). (2012) 27 Australian Journal of Corporate Law 22, Available at SSRN:

Peta Spender (Contact Author)

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200


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