Women take more seats in the boardroom

THREE times as many women have joined the boards of Australia's top listed companies in the first seven months of this year as those who were appointed in the whole of last year, new figures show.

In a further sign that women are being chosen for boards at a rising rate, the Australian Institute of Company Directors said 27 per cent of all ASX 200 board appointees this year have been women, compared with 5 per cent last year.

So far this year, 31 women have been appointed to ASX 200 boards, compared with 10 in all of 2009.

In the past six weeks alone, seven women have been appointed to ASX 200 boards, including Vanessa Wallace, who joined the board of Wesfarmers on July 6.

Ms Wallace leads the financial services practice of the consultancy firm Booz & Company and was until June a member of its global board of directors.

She said she had not initially sought to join a board because she doubted the value of doing it. But her time on the Booz & Co. board made her realise how much of a contribution she could make to a company, and how ''exceptionally motivating and enjoyable'' that was.

''I actually don't get excited about the gender discussion,'' Ms Wallace said yesterday. ''For me it's much more about people wanting to spend their time on things that matter, and I think in particular women probably think about that a little bit more.

''We have a lot of other things to trade off, family and other things, so we don't want to be spending our time doing other things that don't actually add value.''

Some women may not seek board positions because they doubted the value of doing so, she said.

Kerrie Mather, the chief executive of MAp Airports, was appointed to its board on July 1.

''The spotlight on women's appointments to Australia's boards is important given the under-representation of female executive directors as well as female non-executive directors,'' she said.

The proportion of female directors of Australia's top listed companies is 9.8 per cent - up from 8.3 per cent at the start of the year.

However, the chief executive of the company directors' institute, John Colvin, said the proportion of women on boards in Australia was not high enough.

In Britain, one in 10 FTSE board directors are women. In the US, women are thought to make up about 15 per cent of directors.

The directors' institute has begun running a mentoring program in which it has matched 63 women with 56 chairmen and senior directors of big companies. It has also launched a scholarship program for 70 ''board-ready'' women with $200,000 from the federal government.