‘It’s gone backwards’: Number of women running ASX 200 companies falls to new low

The number of women running the country’s top 200 ASX-listed companies has fallen over the last four years, according to a new report.

The Chief Executive Women (CEW) ASX200 census found there were only 10 female CEOs of ASX 200 companies, the lowest since the census began four years ago.

CEW president Sue Morphet thought there would have been an upturn in the number of female CEOs.

“I was very disappointed with the results of the census,” she said.

“We’ve been running it for four years now and we felt that surely we will start to get some traction and a tick up.

“Any movement in the positive direction throughout the census has shown a glacial change, but generally speaking it’s flatlined, and in the key jobs of line roles and CEOs it’s gone backwards.”

One of the key issues identified in the census was the lack of women in chief financial officer (CFO) roles and line roles, which are positions responsible for profit and loss.

It found 96 per cent of CEO appointments were chosen from those roles.

“Unfortunately they are held by very few women in the ASX 200 companies. CFOs, women hold about 16 per cent of the positions, and in the line roles women hold about 12 per cent of the positions,” Ms Morphet said.

A woman poses for a photo
Sue Morphet says she is “very disappointed” with the results of the census.(Supplied)

“Over the last two years there have been 50 CEO appointments in the ASX 200, and of those only three were women and one of them was from New Zealand.

“So that means Australia could only find … two women that they believed were good enough to be CEOs of our great companies and I think that’s nonsense.

“The talent that exists in women is enormous and we’re not taking advantage of it.”

The proportion of female CFOs has increased, however, from 9 per cent in 2017 to 16 per cent this year.

The census found only 30 companies of the 200 had 40 to 60 per cent women in their executive leadership team.

That is double the number from 2017.

Ms Morphet said recent research showing gender-balanced businesses performed better proved it was no longer OK to have companies and executive teams dominated by men.

“From the research that was done on business, it did show the gender-balanced teams ran better businesses and delivered better outcomes … so shareholders should demand this.

“This is not an optional extra anymore.”

Ms Morphet added the coronavirus pandemic had proved flexible and work-from-home arrangements could work for everyone — not just working mothers. But she said male leaders would need to continue setting an example once work returned to normal.

“We’ll only hold on to that when we can go back into the office if the senior executives, and in the main they are men, continue to work some of their week remotely, some of their week flexibly,” she said.

“That will set the model for the men who work for them to also work remotely and flexibly, which means that it legitimises it for the entire organisation.”