Guest Notes

Gender notes

10 August 2019

9:00 AM

10 August 2019

9:00 AM

The trouble with a double-X rating

Having worked across several professions, started and run four successful businesses and having a reasonably high profile I have been both chuffed and gratified to have been invited onto various committees and boards across civic development, commercial retail, the hospitality industry, tourism, the beef industry and a couple of charities. You see, I thought the invitations related to the fact that I knew the specific industry or subject and could add value to board table group decisions based on my real life experiences. But now I am shamed and humiliated by the revelation that I may only have been included because of my XX status.

I am of the original XX design. The one with the bits and bobs (sorry, ‘boobs’) consistent with my evolutionary-assigned role as a reproductive mammal of the female gender. I am designed to be impregnated by an XY counterpart, to then provide a space in my body that will sustain from zygote to foetus to neonate a new addition to my species that I will then further nurture with my mammalian-defining ability to supply milk until such time that my young can find sustenance without my body’s nutritive help. I will continue to supply support to my offspring by way of protection and the teaching of life’s many wonders that are available to all that can discriminate between risk versus opportunity and effort versus sloth. This has been a great role to play and I can only hope that my offspring continue to develop as competent, fully independent individuals that will go on to play their part in the greater cooperative that is the Homo sapiens species.

During my early adult days I was mentored by several amazing women starting with my mother and grandmother and then women who led their fields in those days. One was the redoubtable Magda Wollner who guided my cooking career through her two restaurants and dished out fabulous advice such as ‘If the skirt is from Penny’s (e.g. Target) then the scarf or belt must be Hermes’ and ‘It is good to be forthright… but not too forthright’. Another was Marie Watson-Blake of Jetset Tours who was proud to become the first female director of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. To this I can add women who run cruise ship empires, hairdressing empires, were or are architects, lawyers/barristers/judges, doctors and medical lecturers, legendary chefs, interior designers, artists, one who owned and managed a huge automobile business and one who became G-G. Of note was the fact that many of these women did not have children so could devote their considerable skills to whatever task they had at hand. Many sat on public, not-for-profit and private company boards relevant to their skills and inputs. This was when board appointments were according to meritocracy, knowledge and expertise specific to the particular company or industry. Access due to gender was probably never even considered in any way relevant for board selection.

Now the sisterhood (along with some of their male lap dogs) at the Australian Institute of Company Directors is proudly announcing the achievement of approximately 30 per cent XX-rated board directors. Is that the goal? Gender balancing, not expertise and competence specific to a company? Not due diligence and integrity of board directors? On top of that there are XX-rated directors who wear many hats across many directorships. What about proprietary information security? At the ASX200 level Janet Albrechtsen quotes research (Australian 29/03/19) by a governance firm showing 38 female directors held three or more board seats last year with 25 men in the same position. At this ASX200 level shareholders should expect a lot of research and information trawling prior to any board meeting or board directive. This stuff shouldn’t be rushed because of deadlines from another board also requiring due diligence and attention. One would also hope new initiatives and innovations based on a thorough working-executive level of knowledge at board level to be of fundamental importance to corporate growth. But is this possible with a career-of-choice background of ‘Board Director’ based on a degree in law or commerce? Is it because some board directors are still on company P-plates when respected corporations are found responsible for some awful tragedy or collapse?

What we are now experiencing is a closed female club that started in Norway called The Golden Skirts. This is a boardroom junta comprised of inner circle XXs that have used power, collegial support and the persuasion of insinuated gender bias to ensure their ongoing and increasing control of companies from the top down. Poor old XYs! They may even know what they are talking about and have an old-fashioned blokey ‘can do’ quality but this won’t matter. The girls are taking over.

This brings up the issue of sexual identity. It used to be simple: XX and XY. Now there is a salad of sexual identification that has more to do with attitude than organs or chromosomes. So how long before our boards are directed to ensure that their directors have representation across the whole current sexual salmagundi? There will need to be an L, a G, a B, a T, a Q… if not some representation from these groups or the media will start accusing the company of sexual bias. But will anyone know anything about how the main businesses of the company are run, operated or performing? Will anyone have new ideas or innovations while they are trying to learn the nuts and bolts of what that company actually produces and how?

There is a downside to having women, because they are women, in too many board roles. As someone who enjoys the stock market it is easy for me to identify company directors and follow them or choose to not follow them. The women who lead the campaign for more XX-rated board directors may have high profiles but are only as good as their corporations’ last performance. That is how they will be judged, not by gender.

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