An online portal launched in support of the Western Australian State Government’s election commitment to gender equity on government boards and committees by 2019 was well received in its early months, according to Women’s Interests Minister, Simone McGurk MLA. 

OnBoardWA was launched by Minister McGurk, who also holds the Child Protection, Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence and Community Services portfolios, and Premier Mark McGowan late last year, offering interested parties the chance to upload their details, interests and CV to a register connecting them with government board and committee positions. 

Open to all people interested in pursuing such opportunities, the register received 550 applicants in its first three months. Two thirds of these were women. 

Speaking to Leader, Minister McGurk said the portal was designed to facilitate the awareness of candidates and those in charge of making appointments to government boards in line with its election commitment. 

“When we have been sitting in cabinet and looking for appointments since we were sworn in, we have often had feedback from departments and people giving us names for boards and committees that they are struggling to find women interested in positions,” she said. 

“We wanted to challenge that view by saying, ‘we think there’s a huge number of women out there who are not only interested, but very capable of filling these roles’. 

“We set up the portal where anyone interested can put their name and CV forward and outline the industries and areas they are interested in.” 

Minister McGurk said broad perspectives were critical in the decision-making process and would only be improved by increasing the diversity of boards through initiatives such as OnBoardWA. 

“A number of corporates and leaders understand that by having a diversity of views and people challenging a prevailing way of looking at a situation, you actually get better results,” she said. 

OnBoardWA is in line with other state governments in Australia which have implemented various initiatives and targets in recent years. 

While the merits of diversity quotas and targets have generated significant debate, Minister McGurk said deliberate efforts needed to be made in the political setting to affect change and remove subconscious bias in the selection process. 

“The reality is we relate to people who are like ourselves,” she said. 

“If we accept that a diversity of views around decision making enhances deliberations and we understand we all have a bias in favour of people who are like us, then you have got to make a deliberate attempt to crack that open and create a diversity of views, otherwise it doesn’t work. 

“This is a problem broader than government committees and boards, it’s a problem the corporate sector is confronting as well.” 

The corporate outlook for boardroom gender diversity is somewhat different to that of government, with the ASX 200 hitting a record high of 26 per cent female representation at the end of 2017 and the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) targeting 30 per cent by 2018. 

Minister McGurk said she was enthused by her interactions with business peak bodies and individual companies in the area, and applauded the work of the AICD. “We want the best outcomes for businesses and our community, and if we don’t want to get left behind we have to draw on all the talent throughout our state,” she said.

Government board targets by state 

New South Wales: Goal of 50 per cent women in senior government roles by 2025. Achieved 41.2 per cent female representation on boards at June 2016, according to 2017 Women in NSW Report Series. 

Queensland: Aiming for 50 per cent women on boards by 2020. Gender Parity research report released in October 2016 showed 39 per cent female representation at that time. 

South Australia: Set a target of an average of 50 per cent women on government boards and committees by 2014, with a view to maintain the ratio thereafter. Had 48.4 per cent representation of women at November 2017. 

Tasmania: Set a target in 2015 of 50 per cent representation across government boards by July 2020. Reported 40.1 per cent representation in September 2017. 

Victoria: Set a target of 50 per cent female government board representation in March 2015. Achieved this goal in February 2017. 

Western Australia: Targeting 50 per cent female representation on government boards by the end of 2019. Had achieved 44 per cent at launch of OnBoardWA in September 2017. 

Federal: Committed to a diversity target of 50 per cent over all, with women and men each holding at least 40 per cent of positions at individual board level, in July 2016. Women held 42.7 per cent of Australian government board positions at June 30, 2017.

Jack McGinn is a Journalist at The West Australian Newspapers and is a writer for 'Leader', AIM WA's magazine for members.