FIRST published in The Australian on 27 September 2013.

By Sarah-Jane Tasker.

PROFESSIONAL women overwhelmingly support quotas to increase female representation on boards, a leading survey has revealed, as new research highlights that only 8 per cent of ASX 200 companies have embedded the principles of gender diversity.

Women On Boards yesterday released its Traffic Light Index, which rates compliance with gender diversity principles, and it showed there were 90 companies that could lift their game around diversity initiatives.

The group’s chairwoman, Ruth Medd, said a recent survey of 1100 women showed 68 per cent supported legislated quotas for ASX companies. That figure was up from 52 per cent two years ago.

Ms Medd said the increase in just two years was “extraordinary”. “Those surveyed had not supported it for years because they believed companies should be able to manage themselves and achieve good business outcomes,” she said.

“But they have got to a point where they now say there is not enough change and perhaps, reluctantly, quotas are the answer.”

Ms Medd said while some progress was being made there were still companies that needed a strong push and the ASX corporate governance regime was encouraging performance and had delivered over the years.

“When it was introduced it was discussed whether it should be legislated or on a volunteer basis and the volunteer basis seems to be working but slowly,” she said.

Arlene Tansey, a director on five boards, including Adelaide Brighton and Pacific Brands, said the reality was that change was difficult and the status quo was “very comfortable”.

“Norms are changing and pressure is increasing. If we measure it and we are truly accountable for it, then targets can deliver an outcome that is satisfactory,” she said.

Ms Tansey added that sometimes to get change people needed to legislate for it, saying that while she did not like the idea of additional regulation, targets helped companies take accountability for it.

“People are becoming impatient with the pace of change and that balance will determine whether or not we go down the road of needing more regulation or we are self-healing,” she said.

John Atkin, non-executive director of Aurizon, also supported the need for quotas.

“I think what we have achieved generally over the last few years has been very positive and I’d persist with the targets and encouragement approach,” he said.