Women miss out on NSW govt board jobs

"The O'Farrell government has dropped the ball": Sophie Cotsis. Photo: Simon Alekna
"The O'Farrell government has dropped the ball": Sophie Cotsis. Photo: Simon Alekna

The NSW government has failed to lift the number of women on government boards, despite election promises that it could be done without quotas or the 50 per cent target used by Labor.

As the federal government lifted female board membership from 38 to 42 per cent last year by imposing a target, the NSW rate of 38 per cent has not budged since the O'Farrell government took office.

Women's representation on the most influential NSW taskforces, committees and panels actually fell below 25 per cent, a Labor analysis of 12 new boards established by the O'Farrell government shows.

At nine NSW departments, female board representation fell markedly between March 2011 and December 2012, separate data from Women NSW shows. The lack of progress in this state has prompted renewed criticism that the Liberal Party's policy of merit selection does not improve gender balance.

NSW Minister for Women Pru Goward said in a 2012 Women's Day speech that ''we need to do better'' and getting more women on to government boards was a priority, particularly in high-profile, well-paid positions.

But by December 2012, big drops were evident in the premier's department (44 per cent to 27 per cent), local government (67 per cent to 39 per cent), community services (73 per cent to 59 per cent), tourism and racing (32 per cent to 18 per cent), sport (37 per cent to 27 per cent), trade (30 per cent to 23 per cent) and finance portfolios (37 per cent to 29 per cent).

No data was released on individual departments last year other than a statement that the situation had not improved.

''Women's representation has remained steady since June 2011 … unchanged for over a decade,'' the Family and Community Services annual report tabled in Parliament in December says.

New public service guidelines, published in July, state the appointment of board directors is to be made on merit, with diversity to be considered ''to the extent reasonable'' and mindful of the entity's purpose and focus.

Labor spokeswoman Sophie Cotsis was critical that no women were appointed to the WestConnex Delivery Authority, and only one woman was appointed to Infrastructure NSW and UrbanGrowth NSW.

''The O'Farrell government has dropped the ball and women have gone backwards,'' she said. ''The public sector should be best practice.''

NSW Labor had a target of women filling 50 per cent of new board vacancies before it lost office. The Gillard government appointed women to half of vacancies last year.

But Ms Goward opposes targets. ''Quota systems only entrench a two-tiered board, with some appointed on merit and some appointed because they had to be,'' she said.

The NSW government was working to improve selection processes to ensure more women appeared in candidate lists, she said, but ''cultural change in government departments, like any large organisation, takes time''.

''I would love to see more women on government boards, and this relies on women themselves nominating for the positions. If a department's senior ranks have for years been dominated by men, that won't change overnight,'' she said.

But Women on Boards executive director Claire Braund called for mandatory targets, arguing it would lead to merit-based appointments because the pool of candidates would be ''much greater''.

''This will shine a light into some dark departmental corners and require those responsible for the recruitment of board members to look outside of traditional networks,'' Ms Braund said.

Only 24 per cent of NSW-owned corporation directors are women.



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