Double jeopardy and the dearth of culturally diverse women in ASX leadership

News articles
To mark 2017 International Women’s Day, Diversity Council Australia and Deakin University, with the support of CPA Australia, investigated the representation of culturally diverse women in the leadership ranks of all Australian listed companies between 2004 and 2015.

While we found some improvements in representation over time, the number of culturally diverse women leaders is still extremely low and is a stark reminder of a serious lack of diversity in leadership amongst our listed companies.

Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO said the results show how much work there is still to do.

“It is good news that women’s representation in ASX leadership is at an all-time high. However, it is bad news that so few of ASX directors are women from a culturally diverse background. In addition, growth in their representation over the last decade has been glacially slow.

“From these results, it would appear that culturally diverse women are experiencing a ‘double jeopardy’ in ASX leadership; where their gender and culture combine to make it more difficult than non-culturally diverse women or even culturally diverse men to access leadership roles.

“We are undoubtedly not making the most of the talent that we know is out there in the community. We really need to look hard at what biases, either conscious or unconscious, are preventing these women from progressing to the top.

“In line with the theme for this year’s IWD, ‘Be Bold for Change’, our report sets out four recommendations for change. This time next year, I hope we have seen some positive action in all of those areas,” said Lisa.

Key findings:

The Good News…

  • Women’s representation in ASX leadership is at an all-time high: as at 2015, women represented 8.2% of directors, 4.9% of senior executives, 4.2% of CEOs and 13.0% of CFOs.
  • The proportion of culturally diverse female leaders has doubled: from 2004 to 2015, representation of these women in CFO roles increased from 2.0% to 4.1%, in senior executive roles from 1.0% to 1.9%, in director roles from to 1.1% to 2.5% and in CEO roles from 0.5% to 1.0%
  • Female ASX leaders have diversified and their cultural mix reflects the Australian community, while female senior executives have a healthy representation of culturally diverse women.

The Bad News…

  • The actual number of female culturally diverse ASX leaders is very small: only 15 of all 1,482 CEOs, 44 of all 2,327 senior executives, 188 of all 7,491 directors and 55 of all 1,350 CFOs.
  • Women are moving into ASX leadership roles very slowly: Since 2004, the percentage has increased by 4% at the most.
  • The percentage of female ASX leaders who are culturally diverse appears to have plateaued between 2013 and 2015 – for almost all ASX groupings (i.e. ASX overall, ASX 500, ASX 200, ASX 100) and all roles, whether a broad or narrow definition of culturally diverse is used.
  • Culturally diverse women experience a 'double jeopardy’: Only 2.5% of all 7,491 ASX directors were culturally diverse women, compared to 5.7% who were non-culturally diverse women, 27.8% who were culturally diverse men and 64.0% who were non-culturally diverse men.

For example, in 2015, if ASX Directors were 100 people, approximately:

  • 2 would be culturally diverse women
  • 6 would be Anglo-Celtic women
  • 28 would be culturally diverse men
  • 64 would be Anglo-Celtic men.

Recommendations for change:

Organisations can take positive action to better capitalise on gender and culture:

  • Boost the percentage of female ASX leaders, particularly of culturally diverse female CEOs. It is not until we boost women’s representation overall that we are going to make significant inroads into increasing the representation of culturally diverse women in ASX leadership. 
  • Ensure female ASX leaders are representative of cultural mix of Australian community. This is particularly important given that the percentage of female ASX leaders who are culturally diverse appears to have plateaued between 2013 and 2015 – for almost all roles, all ASX groupings, and whether a broad or narrow definition of culturally diverse is used.
  • When appointing CEOs, target culturally diverse women in senior executive roles. This report has demonstrated that, of any ASX leadership role, culturally diverse women are best represented amongst senior executives. When appointing CEOs, Boards should therefore be looking at this pool of qualified senior women to increase the cultural and gender diversity of ASX CEOs.
  • Consider introducing targets for culturally diverse women in leadership. This is particularly pertinent given the positive impact public reporting on targets has had on women’s representation in leadership roles in Australia to-date.


‘Culturally diverse’ refers to anyone with non-Anglo cultural origins. This definition recognises Australia’s British colonisation history, and so ‘culturally diverse’ includes people with European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander cultural backgrounds. ‘ASX leaders’ refers to director, senior executive roles (defined as Executive Directors including Executive CEOs and Chairs), CEOs and Chief Financial Officer roles.