Capitalising on Culture and Gender in ASX leadership


In this landmark research, Diversity Council Australia and Deakin University, with the financial support of CPA Australia, tracked the extent of cultural diversity amongst women in leadership in ASX companies from 2004 to 2015.

Here they considered the question: How well are ASX organisations capitalising on culture and gender in leadership?

In this report, the cultural origins of female leaders in ASX companies were investigated at four key time points – 2004, 2009, 2013 and 2015 – using an innovative methodology, OriginsInfos name analysis. This approach has been demonstrated to have strong analytical power. It is a simple, quick and cost-effective way of gaining an understanding of the cultural mix of a workforce, labour market catchment, customer base or other population. This report is the fourth release in DCAs innovative Capitalising on Culture research series.

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.

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.

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.

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Suggested citation: Diversity Council Australia (Shireenjit, J., OLeary, J., Legg, A. and Brown, C.) Capitalising on Culture and Gender in ASX Leadership, Sydney, Diversity Council Australia, 2017.

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