July 28 (Bloomberg) -- Women in Australia run the federal government, the largest city and the second-biggest bank. Harder to attain is a seat on the central bank’s board.
Three females, including members Jillian Broadbent since 1998 and Catherine Tanna since March, have served on the 51- year-old Reserve Bank of Australia’s board, compared with 57 men. As one man replaces another this week, some officials want a body that’s more representative of society when two potential vacancies come up next year.
“This is one of the last boys clubs in Australia,” Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said in an interview. “The gender ratio isn’t acceptable, particularly when we have the most educated females in the world.”
The imbalance mirrors the boardrooms of Australia’s biggest public companies, where about 13 percent of directors are women. The gap also runs counter to a goal of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who became the nation’s first female leader last year, to boost the representation of women in powerful positions.
Treasurer Wayne Swan, who can pick six of the nine-member board, said that while Tanna’s “well-deserved” appointment this year helped move the gender ratio in the right direction, more can be done.
“There’s certainly plenty of room for improvement in terms of women in senior roles,” Swan said in an e-mail response to questions. “Smart businesses are becoming increasingly aware that it makes good commercial sense to have more women in senior positions, including on boards.”
On July 30, academic economist Warwick McKibbin will be replaced by John Edwards, a former economist with HSBC Holdings Plc. The Treasurer’s office will next appoint RBA board members in 2012, when the terms of Graham Kraehe, the chairman of pallet supplier Brambles Ltd. and Bluescope Steel Ltd., and John Akehurst, a director at Origin Energy Ltd., expire.
At stake for Australia is more than fairness. As the jobless rate hovers below 5 percent near a level economists view as full employment, boosting participation and productivity will be important for future growth.
A 2010 World Economic Forum study about gender in the workplace ranked Australia 23rd, just after Mozambique and down from its 15th-place ranking in 2006.
The participation rate of working-age women in Australia is 59 percent, compared with 72 percent among men, according to government figures. Seventy S&P/ASX 200 companies have all-male boards, according to the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Gillard, 49, was a founder of Emily’s List Australia, established in 1996 to boost to 40 percent the number of Labor women in parliament. The share stands at 36 percent.
Australian women won the right to vote in 1902, almost two decades before their American counterparts. The ruling British monarch’s representative and two of eight state premiers are women, who make up 50.2 percent of the total population of 22.7 million.
Five of 15 voting members of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee are women, while one of the Bank of Japan’s nine-member policy board is female. The European Central Bank’s 23-member Governing Council and the Bank of England’s rate-setting panel are all men.
One of Asia’s longest-serving central bank governors is a woman, Malaysia’s Zeti Akhtar Aziz, who assumed the role in 2000. Among Asian economies tracked by Bloomberg, only Taiwan’s Perng Fai-Nan has been central bank chief longer.
At the RBA, where one of six assistant governors is a woman, five of the 11 promotions in the past year to senior management, a title of deputy department head or above, were of females, according to figures a spokeswoman provided to Bloomberg. Fourteen of 30 promotions to middle management in the past year were female, she said.
“Treasurers are usually men, the people who advise them are usually men -- maybe they don’t get out much to meet women with these amazing capabilities,” said Janet Holmes à Court, who became the RBA board’s first female member in 1992 and served for five years.
Bernie Fraser, the RBA governor from 1989 and 1996, said Holmes à Court “humanized” the board, which at times could be “pretty dry.”
“She brought a very human aspect to the discussions and made us remember we were dealing with people and mortgages -- not just inflation,” Fraser said in a phone interview from his home near Canberra.
Corporate Australia has “a long way to go” in female representation, even thought it reached a record as of this month, the directors institute says on its website. Women accounted for 25 percent of all new directors appointed to ASX 200 boards last year, up from 5 percent a year earlier, according to the Sydney-based institute.
The city of Sydney’s first woman mayor, Clover Moore, was elected in 2004. Gail Kelly became chief executive officer of Westpac Banking Corp. in 2008, overseeing the country’s biggest banking takeover.
Broderick, the sex discrimination commissioner, said in April that she’s beginning to see more opportunities for women across “a landscape that has remained depressingly static for far too many years.”
--Editors: Brendan Murray, Malcolm Scott
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