Legislated board quotas have been introduced in Spain, France, Iceland and the Netherlands, but compliance with the targets remains low. However, Norway introduced mandatory quotas in 2003 when the proportion of women on boards stood at 8%. Today it's 40%. There was resistance. A Harvard review for the 2011 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development, said that some public limited Norwegian companies, which were opposed to the law, turned private to avoid compliance. In addition,"quotas intended to give more women an opportunity to serve as leaders have been circumvented by corporations allowing directors to sit on multiple boards", the report states. And the boardroom impact has not had a knock-on effect in increasing participation of women in senior management to the same degree in Norway.
In an address to the Australian Human Rights Commission, Elizabeth Broderick said merit was a very good principle but it has been unevenly applied."The merit principle aims to ensure that leadership selection processes are fair, impartial and transparent. It means the outcome isn't based on where you went to university, or who you know, or what your parents do. The merit principle is intended to eliminate favouritism, nepotism and bias – and, yes, sexism. But unfortunately, it's now being used to defend just that."
Malcolm Dunn, director of Executive Development Services at the Australian Graduate School of Management, disagrees and says that quotas would be a mistake. He believes the issue is a distraction from the real problem of how we develop the highest quality managers."The challenge is how do we build capabilities in our leaders irrespective of gender," he says."If we are encouraging diversity, including demographic and ethnic diversity, we shouldn't be legislating for conformity and trying to make everyone look like each other. A combination of masculine and feminine traits is the essence of good future leadership."
In mid-March 2012, an amendment to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act was introduced. It will require businesses to report on the outcomes of their gender equality policies rather than just the processes. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency will replace the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency and will ensure compliance as well as offer support to employers to achieve greater gender diversity. The agency will have the power to name and shame companies that don't.
Perhaps mindful that government should be taking a lead, after its period of public self-reflection, the Treasury has set itself a target: it wants 40% of its senior executives to be women with 35% achieved by 2016.
There are certainly plenty of women waiting for the opportunity. Addressing a recent group of AGSM students, Ann Sherry said a lot of questions were about diversity."The good thing is that now it is being spoken about openly. They were a racially diverse group as well as gender diverse. There are a lot of groups in our community who feel the edge of bias and together they form a large group that can hopefully come together to challenge these attitudes."