More women on Commonwealth boards, Boardlinks revamped


Closeup of notepad kept on table in empty conference room

Women now hold 40.1% of the seats on federal government boards after a slight decline over the previous two financial years, but that’s still a long way from the government’s new 50-50 target.

The latest annual report on the situation shows women now hold 32% of chair and deputy chair positions, up slightly from 30.1% last year. Appointments to federal public sector boards over 2015-16 were 46.5% women, an 7.9% improvement on the previous year.

Looking back through the reports from the Office for Women, it seems extremely unlikely the next report in 2017 will show the 10% increase it would take to meet the target over the current year.

Minister for Women Michaelia Cash has also launched a revamped Boardlinks website, which connects women with opportunities to serve on government boards. “We want to make it as straightforward as possible to find suitably qualified women so we can continue to increase female representation on government boards,” she said in a statement.

The Commonwealth raised its overall gender balance target for government boards to 50% on International Womens Day in March this year. But it kept the 40-40 rule for individual boards, which leaves 20% of the seats for either gender.

In November 2015, parliament rejected legislation that would have created a mandatory quota of 40% for each individual board, when it was introduced by Senator Nick Xenophon, whose new political party wants to try again in the new parliament.

Xenophon’s bill stemmed from concern that when the Coalition came to power and began to abolish a large number of small government bodies and replace various appointees, the numbers started to go backwards. From a high point of 41.7% in 2013, the figure dropped to 39.7% in 2014 and 39.1% last year.

The highest percentage is in the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio, where women now hold 55.6% of board positions. Of the 18 portfolios, there are four others where women hold over half of the board seats: Human Services (54.5%), Social Services (51.7%), and Prime Minister and Cabinet (50.6%). According to the report:

“As at 30 June 2016, 11 portfolios out of 18 met or exceeded the gender diversity target, compared to ten portfolios out of 18 as at 30 June 2015. Of the seven portfolios that did not reach the target, four are within four percentage points of achieving it, and another two are within 0.5 percentage points.”

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