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ASX 200 gender inequality lets the team down

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It’s no secret that the gender gap in the top echelons of the S&P/ASX 200 Index (ASX: XJO) remains disappointingly wide. Incremental progress over the past few decades has been there, to be sure. It wasn’t too long ago when it was unheard of for a woman to be running an ASX company.

But a new report out today outlines just how far we have to go before there’s true gender equality on the ASX 200.

More worryingly, the progress that the last few years has seen looks to be stalling.

The Chief Executive Women group publish an annual report of gender diversity in the ASX 200, and the report for 2020 is now public.

Report lays bare ASX 200 inequality

Some of its key findings are as follows:

  • out of 25 new ASX 200 CEO appointments in the past year, just one was a woman. Only 3 out of 50 appointments in the past 3 years have been women
  • just 5% of ASX 200 companies (or 10 out of 200) have a female CEO, down from 6% last year.
  • 15% of ASX 200 companies have executive leadership teams (ELTs) consisting of 40-60% women, up from 12% in 2019.
  • around 65% of ASX 200 companies have no women on their ELTs.
  • just 1 ASX 200 company has no men in its ELT.
  • the telco sector has the highest proportion of women in ELTs at 24%.
  • in industries with a female-dominant workforce (e.g. health care), there is massive under-representation in roles with profit and loss responsibility, with only 5% of leadership line roles in health care companies in the ASX 200 filled by women. This is down from 15% 4 years ago.

Chief Executive Women president Sue Morphet had this to say on these numbers:

We know that if businesses take immediate action to remove systemic barriers for women, particularly in career-forming years, they will see the most talented and qualified people appointed to senior positions which will benefit their company performance, and their bottom line.

We need business to unleash the largely untapped resource that highly educated, experienced and capable women are, leading to better performing businesses at a time when every job counts more than ever.

The solution?

Following these numbers, the group is calling for a number of actions from the ASX 200, including accountability on diversity targets and pay inequality, clear succession planning, and increasing availability and ‘normalcy’ of flexible and part-time work for all employees.

In some good news, it appears many investors aren’t taking these numbers lying down. According to reporting in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), Debby Blakey, chief executive of superannuation fund HESTA, says the fund will increasingly use its $54 billion worth of ASX voting power to “make boards more accountable for poor progress on gender diversity”. Hopefully, other institutional investors follow HESTA’s lead and put their money where their mouths are.

Foolish takeaway

It’s clear and obvious that gender inequality continues to plague the ASX, and it is worrying to see some trends going the wrong way in 2020. In my view, it’s the responsibility of all shareholders, as the ultimate owners of ASX 200 companies, to push for equality in our companies. Hopefully, we can do better in 2021 than the dismal numbers we see today.

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Motley Fool contributor Sebastian Bowen has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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