Bring in a nanny army to move women into boardrooms, says Hewson

ONE OF Australia's most powerful female company directors, Carolyn Hewson, has a message. If women are to participate fully in corporate life, Australia must embrace the nanny culture.

''We do not have a nanny culture in this country, and it severely hampers us - and I speak here from personal and desperate experience,'' the former investment banker told the Women in Banking and Finance forum.

''In Asia, and in Europe, there's a much more appropriate nanny culture,'' she said.

Her comments this week came as fellow panellist and keynote speaker, the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Penny Wong, said the government would appoint women to more than 500 government boards. Companies have cited the lack of board experience as a significant barrier when making private-sector board appointments.

The boardroom blitz was an election commitment of the government. It set a target that by 2015, boards were to have no more than 60 per cent of either gender. In June last year, women comprised 34.5 per cent of members of all government boards.

Among the worst performers were those covering defence, resources, energy and tourism, where 40 per cent had no women. The best performers included health and ageing, where all 45 boards had female representation.

Senator Wong's portfolio was a poor performer, with five of its 15 boards having no women.

The increasing demand for female board members has been driven by the Australian Securities Exchange's new gender diversity policy.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors recently reported that this year, women accounted for nearly 30 per cent of new board appointments in ASX 200 companies - a 600 per cent increase on 2009 when they accounted for 7.5 per cent of appointments.

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Ms Hewson, who is on the boards of Westpac Banking, BHP Billiton, Stockland and BT Investment Management, agreed that the small pool of female directors was being called on heavily.

''You can't keep on stretching people more and more,'' she said.

Just how business would channel the 55 per cent of university graduates who were women into career pathways to the senior executive ranks, and boards, demanded a cultural shift.

''We talk a lot about female role models, and they are very important,'' Ms Hewson said.

''But the real key to this would be male role models working flexible hours, taking their share of leaving early to pick up the children two days a week. A male role model at the chief executive or chairman level is incredibly powerful.''