Greater emphasis on the importance of board members could attract more women to the role, an advisor tells AAA in this report marking International Women’s Day.
Despite being a highly feminised sector – females make up about 82 per cent of the aged care workforce – women are not similarly represented among senior ranks including on the boards where key decision-making happens.
Sector-wide statistics are unavailable, but an analysis by Australian Ageing Agenda shows most aged care boards are male heavy and a female chair is a rarity in the sector (see table below).
The boards of Leading Age Services Australia and Feros Care are notable exceptions for their gender split, and likewise Japara and the Benevolent Society which have a female chair, according to AAA’s analysis.
Aged care lawyer and partner at Gadens Sabine Phillips said research indicated there were more women on boards in feminised industries but, as in aged care, men still dominated.
“The majority of senior executives and board members are still men; the maths just doesn’t add up,” Ms Phillips told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Ms Phillips said her sense was that around 30 per cent of aged care board members were female, which was higher than in other industries.
However, while female representation was increasing, some of this could be attributed to men declining to take up unpaid positions, she said.
“We are seeing a lot more women on boards in aged care but a lot of that is also because men are saying if its not a paid position they won’t invest their time.”
Indeed aged care appears ahead of other sectors for its gender mix on boards. Figures from the Australian Institute of Company Directors show women account for 25 per cent of board positions among the Australian Stock Exchange’s largest 200 companies, a list known as the ASX 200.
In line with their listed peers, a quarter of the boards across the three aged care organisations in the ASX 200 are also female.
But individually, Japara Healthcare has more female representation on its board (40 per cent) than Estia Health (20 per cent) and Regis Healthcare (17 per cent).
Women’s share of positions on ASX 200 boards has been rising steadily since the AICD began compiling figures in 2009, when it was 8.3 per cent. The AICD has a goal of achieving 30 per cent female representation on ASX 200 boards by the end of 2018 and a broader goal of achieving 30 per cent female representation across all boards.
Click on table to enlarge:
Perpetuating the imbalance
While things may be slowly improving, some practices in the aged care sector continue to restrict female representation on boards, such as passing board positions between people in particular networks, Ms Phillips said.
“Most church groups still have within their constitution the need to have church members on the board… and in the private sector you get the owners of the businesses on the board and you throw in a woman here or there for looks.”
Another barrier can be women undervaluing themselves despite their experience and qualifications, said Ms Phillips.
“Women have a terrible habit for going for jobs they know they can do rather than going for jobs they can do or can learn to do, whereas men don’t have the same issue.”
However, the qualifications and experience of women on many aged care and health boards showed they have clear skill sets, she said.
Attracting more women to boards
Rather than the common notion of trying to “get more women on boards” Ms Phillips said that greater discussion of the important role board members played in the governance of an organisation was required.
An awareness about the responsibility of directors in improving organisations might prove ultimately more appealing to women, she said.
“Historically being on a board had very different connotations than it has now. I am seeing boards that have a lot more women who really want to make a difference to the governance of an organisation and to its future.”
At the provider level, organisations should be clear about the skills that directors require and recruit people with those attributes.
If more young women with the requisite expertise and skills take on the role, the sector would be a lot better off, Ms Phillips argued.
Getting more women onto boards would benefit organisations too, recent evidence shows.
Late last year the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s The CS Gender 3000: Progress in the Boardroom found companies with more women in decision-making roles performed better.
Read more in AAA’s special report on women in aged care:
- Getting more women to the top in aged care
- Aged care provider helps women with ‘imagination and courage’ to rise to the top
- Women in aged care: the numbers tell the story