Culturally-diverse women in ASX leadership: a double jeopardy?

Advancing Society and Culture

Researchers have uncovered a serious lack of women leaders from culturally-diverse backgrounds in ASX-listed companies.

In good news, women’s representation in leadership roles across Australian Securities Exchange (ASX)-listed companies is now at an all-time high. However, the more sobering news is that the actual number of culturally-diverse women leaders remains low.

In landmark research funded by CPA Australia and led by Associate Professor Shireenjit Johl of Deakin Business School’s Department of Accounting, and Dr Jane O’Leary, Diversity Council Australia (DCA), the study, “Capitalising on Culture and Gender in ASX Leadership,” tracked the extent of culturally-diverse women leadership representation in ASX companies from 2004-2015.

“In some of the categories we examined, the number of culturally diverse women – when defined narrowly – remained less than ten until 2013,” said Associate Professor Johl.

“Further, their growth in the ASX leadership space over the past decade has been extremely slow. Clearly, work is needed to increase the representation of culturally-diverse women in ASX leadership.”

In terms of cultural diversity within the portfolio, the research showed that as women move into ASX leadership roles around one-third are from culturally-diverse backgrounds – a proportion that matches the Australian population.

“For example, in 2015 about 39 per cent of the women in senior executive positions have a culturally diverse background, which, in fact, is higher than the proportion of Australian adults who are culturally diverse (33 per cent). So, we’re seeing a move towards a healthy cultural mix within the female ASX leaders’ portfolio,” said Associate Professor Johl.

However at the most senior level (Director and CEO) they are poorly represented. Culturally-diverse women experience a “double jeopardy” in ASX leadership because both their gender and culture make access to these roles more difficult.

“In 2015, only 2.5 per cent of all 7,491 ASX directors were culturally-diverse women, compared to 5.7 per cent who were non-culturally diverse. For men, 27.8 per cent were culturally-diverse and 64.0 per cent were non-culturally diverse.”
Associate Professor Shireenjit Johl Deakin Business School’s Department of Accounting

In response to these concerns, and in-line with the 2017 International Women’s Day theme “Be Bold for Change”, the report makes four key recommendations to improve representation of culturally-diverse female leaders:

  • Boost the percentage of female ASX leaders, particularly of culturally-diverse female CEOs.
  • Ensure female ASX leaders are representative of the Australian community cultural mix.
  • When appointing CEOs, target culturally-diverse women in senior executive roles
  • Consider introducing targets for culturally-diverse women in leadership.

“Our results clearly show that positive action is necessary in these areas,” said Associate Professor Johl. “We are definitely not making the most of the talent that is out there in the community. We need to pay attention to the biases – either conscious or unconscious – that are hindering women, particularly those from a culturally-diverse background, from moving into top management.”

The report is the fourth release in the DCA’s innovative “Capitalising on Culture” research series.