Friday, 19 February 2010

Diversity Deficit? Women in Govt-appointed Board spots

Yesterday Catherine Delahunty closely questioned Pansy Wong, Minister of Women's Affairs, about the issue of women's appointments to Government-selected Board spots. The exchange in the House included:
5. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Women's Affairs: Does she stand by her statement: “it is important that women and men stand shoulder to shoulder in our boardrooms”?

Hon PANSY WONG (Minister of Women's Affairs): Yes.

Catherine Delahunty: How can women and men stand shoulder to shoulder on the Government-appointed National Infrastructure Advisory Board when it consists of eight men and no women?

Hon PANSY WONG: The member will be pleased to know that the Government looks at the overall result, and in the quarter from October to December 2009, 47 percent of the board members appointed to Government boards and committees were women. I acknowledge my National Cabinet colleagues for recognising and appointing competent women to their boards.

Catherine Delahunty: How can women and men stand shoulder to shoulder on the Government-funded Tax Working Group when it consists of 13 men and no women?

Hon PANSY WONG: On this side of the House, we look at the overall picture. We want to win the battle, not just little individual boardrooms, boardroom by boardroom. [my emphasis]
Now Wong may be correct. In an odd sort of way I hope that she is.

But I suspect that even if she is technically correct, then a proper examination is likely to show that women's appointments are largely clustered in the lower status, lower power, lower paid Boards. And further that there may be Boards that are dominated by women in areas that are seen as traditional female areas e.g health and education, and a lady drought in the old-fashioned men's spheres like finance, governance and trade.

Delahunty pointed out the paucity of female appointments to a number of very important boards which have been in the news recently; the Don Brash-led 2025 Closing the Gap With Australia force thing (5 men, 1 woman), the independent advisory panel on National Standards (4 men, 1 woman), and both the Tax Working Group (13 men, 0 women) and the National Infrastructure Advisory Board (8 men, 0 women) mentioned above. These are high-powered bodies, entwined with key National policy areas. Why isn't National backing more women to contribute to these important areas? In fact why don't those groups have more diversity full stop, and resemble our current community more than a bad caricature of a 19th century Parliament?

I've put in an OIA request about the Board appointments and will let you know how I get on in due course. It would be nice if Wong is actually right, not just technically right, but we shall see. Many thanks to Liz for sending me a transcript of the Question Time exchange today, which sparked my thinking on this and spurred me to action send an email ;-)


Grace Dalley said...

Good on you for following it up, Julie. I'm very interested to see the result.

Anonymous said...

I'd prefer to see results and the best people for the job rather than tokenism which is just degrading to women.