Australia: G-G Quentin Bryce calls for goals & targets to break the old boy’s business network Print E-mail

 Melbourne ~ Tuesday March 8 2011

G-G calls for female quotas

By Tony Wright

Quentin Bryce: "I believe that in certain circumstances quotas are a valid measure." (Alex Ellinghausen)

GOVERNOR-GENERAL Quentin Bryce has advocated the introduction of quotas to ensure more women are appointed as directors on the boards of Australian companies.

In comments that could reignite claims that she has crossed the line between her vice-regal role and politics, Ms Bryce said she believed affirmative action might be the only way to break the stranglehold of the ''old boys' network'' on Australian business.

''I believe the old boys' network is a powerful one,'' she said. ''No one gives up power and privilege willingly, do they?''

Last night, senior Labor and Liberal figures backed Ms Bryce's view. Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said the failure of big business to appoint women as directors had reached the point where Parliament should consider ''punitive measures'' to force companies to choose more women.

Appearing on the ABC's Q&A, Mr Hockey suggested a quota of 30 per cent would be reasonable. Minister for Status of Women Kate Ellis agreed with Mr Hockey on the need for quotas and said Australian companies clearly did not make enough merit-based appointments.

Last year, women made up just 3 per cent of chief executives of the top 200 companies on the Australian Stock Exchange, and 8.4 per cent of board members. More than 100 of the top 200 companies had no women on their boards.

Ms Bryce, speaking to The Age on the eve of International Women's Day, said that while women had made huge progress since she first became aware of widespread discrimination as a young barrister in the 1960s, progress had slowed, particularly at the highest levels of business. ''I think there's a very clear recognition and understanding that the progress of women in business at the very highest decision-making levels is too slow,'' she said.

''This is a discussion that's going on in every country around the world, actually.

''And a very interesting debate that surrounds it is about whether affirmative action should be taken to ensure … to take some positive steps to see that women are better represented on boards and at the highest decision-making levels.

''I support affirmative action. I support special measures when you need it.''

Asked what she meant by special measures, Ms Bryce said: ''One of the things that is being discussed in Australia now - and this has been going on the past couple of years - is whether or not there should be quotas for the representation of women on boards, and there are women who support that and there are others who don't … I believe that in certain circumstances quotas are a valid measure.''

The Governor-General said such a proposal ''sounds like a very radical notion, but it's not''.

She said there were many examples of such action around the world, citing ''education in the US'', where the national government had forced states to accept African Americans in the school system, and legislation in various countries to get more women in parliaments.

Later in the interview, the Governor-General amended her definition of what should be done to reduce male domination to ''setting goals and targets''.

''The Australian way of affirmative action is setting goals and recognising discrimination and lack of opportunity and deciding to take action and setting some goals and targets. I guess I prefer that language to talking about quotas,'' she said.

Ms Bryce will spend International Women's Day at a series of events dedicated to women who have worked and fought for the advancement of women.