Latest stats show healthy gender representation on government boards

By Melissa Coade

December 7, 2021

Women held 49.6% of positions on a total of 342 government boards in 2020-21. (Rob/Adobe)

Women held 49.6% of positions on a total of 342 government boards in 2020-21, marking the closest to an even gender split at this leadership level ever.

On Friday the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet published the latest findings in a new report on the composition of Australian government boards, revealing that a more than one-point increase since last year brought it close to achieving the target of women holding 50% of 2,315 filled board positions.

The report also found that the number of women in key leadership positions on government boards had ‘significantly increased’ with 39.1% of chair and deputy chair positions held by women last financial year, compared to 36.9% the year before.

Writing in the foreword of the report, minister for women Marise Payne echoed a key takeaway from the recent ‘Set the Standard’ document: that having more women in visible leadership positions would bring about cultural change, and deliver a more respectful workplace environment for women.

“With more women in leadership roles, decisions are informed by broader perspectives and opinions of all Australians,” Payne said. 

“While these are positive results, there is more to do to improve women’s representation in positions of leadership. Consistent reporting against targets is key to continuing our good work and achieving the target,” she said, adding that the federal government would continue to report on the progress to reach its overall target of 50% women on boards.

The federal target was set on 1 July 2016, replacing what was previously known as the gender diversity target of women holding 40% of Australian government board positions overall. Annual data has been released to track gender representation on government boards since. 

The targets also include a government commitment for at least 40% of positions on individual boards to go to men, and another 40% to go to women.

Board representation drops slightly across four portfolios

According to the report, compiled by the government Office for Women, since 30 June 2020, there was a slight drop in representation of women on government boards. And this decrease was recorded in areas where women were already unrepresented.

Portfolios with boards trailing behind the rest on gender representation included Finance (40% women represented on boards); Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (41.4%); Home Affairs (44.7%); Treasury (45.8%); Agriculture, Water and the Environment (46.9%); and Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (48%).

The Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications portfolio has the largest number of boards comparative to other groups with 96 boards in total. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Social Services (including services Australia) and Finance have only six boards respectively.

Payne said that a new Cabinet Taskforce on Women’s Safety and Economic Security established by Scott Morrison in 2021 aimed to deliver ‘practical, effective outcomes for Australian women’.

“The Cabinet Taskforce played a vital role in developing and delivering a $3.4 billion Women’s Budget Statement, which builds on the 2018 and 2020 Women’s Economic Security Statements, including continuing to promote women’s leadership opportunities and choice,” Payne said. 

“I acknowledge and thank my ministerial colleagues for their continued commitment to gender equality, noting that we all have a role to drive change.”

Of the 469 new appointments to government boards made in the 2020-21 financial year (not including re-appointment to existing positions), 52.2% were women. This represented a slight increase of more than one point from the previous year. 


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