"Dismal" stats for women in ASX leadership roles

The number of women in CEO positions is "dismal", with only 6% of ASX300 companies having women CEOs.

Chief Executive Women (CEW) has released the 2021 Chief Executive Women Senior Executive Census, the fifth year of the survey.

The survey found only 18 women CEOs in the top 300 ASX-listed companies (6.2%), and that only one out of 23 CEO appointments in the ASX300 in the 2021 reporting period was a woman.

CEW is calling for gender targets by ASX-listed companies to improve the number of women in executive leadership roles.

CEW president Sam Mostyn called the numbers "dismal" and "very disappointing" in an event launching the report and noted that these statistics stand against a backdrop where women's overall participation in the workforce in Australia have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"These results are a wake-up call, for business leaders, for our political leaders and of course investors," Mostyn said.

This year's survey extended beyond the ASX200 to include ASX300 companies, CEW noted. However, ASX200 trend data shows the percentage of women CEOs in the ASX200 is the same as it was when the Census began five years ago in 2017 (5%). Women make up a quarter (26%) of roles on executive leadership teams - a figure CEW Census data shows has stalled in recent years (25% for ASX200 in 2019).

Most CEOs (78%) in 2021 were appointed from line roles with profit and loss accountability and

women make up just 14% of those line management roles across the ASX300.

There are positive findings in the research: the report notes that the proportion of companies that have set targets of at least 40% of each gender in senior roles is significantly higher in the ASX100 (50%), compared to the ASX300 (29%). Further, the data shows the higher the organisation is on the ASX, the better the representation of women.

"We know that those companies perform better, perform better because of gender balance," Mostyn said. "In this census data, it's the top performing companies in the ASX50 that have the greatest balance in gender roles."

ASX50 companies perform better for all metrics on women's representation, particularly for CFOs -

with women making up 38% of CFO roles at ASX50 companies compared to 25% for ASX100.

Without stronger action by companies, it will take 65 years or until 2086 before women make up 40% of line roles in executive leadership teams, based on CEW Census trends from the last five years.

Achieving gender parity in executive leadership takes "effort and persistence," said Mirvac CEO Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz during a panel discussion launching the research.

"I think it is a very complex, multifaceted problem and there is no one simple one action that is going to make all the difference," Lloyd-Hurwitz said.

IAG managing director and CEO Nick Hawkins agreed.

"This is not a topic that is a set and forget, and my experience with IAG is that we've had a lot of focus over a very long period of time and set individual action items," he said.

Read more: Chief Executive WomenIAGMirvacSusan Lloyd-HurwitzSam MostynNick Hawkins