Superannuation Minister Bill Shorten will spend $150k to help women gain seats on super boards, but he's been accused of using the gender issue to meet his own ends.
The money will go towards the Super Springboard Program for women, which will be run by the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) in conjunction with Women in Super (WIS), and will provide a scholarship program.
“I am an absolute believer in the march of women through Australia’s workforce, our institutions and our boardrooms – our country can only get better the more women participate at its highest levels, be it in politics, business, sports, our universities, our military,” said Shorten.
According to the Women on Boards Boardroom Diversity Index 2012, women currently represent 21.8% of members of superannuation trustee boards. This compares well with the 13.9% per cent of director positions in ASX 200 companies held by women, but is well below the 40% five-year target set by the AIST.
“A number of funds have already joined this ‘40 per cent club’, including AGEST Super, HESTA, Australian Catholic Super and Retirement Fund, the NT Government Public Authorities’ Superannuation, Super SA, Tasplan, Telstra Super, Health Industry Plan and IAG & NRMA Superannuation Plan,” said Shorten.
“I encourage more funds to make a pledge to join the 40 per cent club.”
The AIST is also calling for public disclosure of the board’s achievement against its measurable gender objectives as well as the proportion of women on their board, in senior management positions, and employed throughout the company.
The Financial Services Council (FSC) is also set to include a new board diversity policy in its superannuation governance standard. From 1 July 2013 FSC members will need to develop and implement a board diversity policy with measurable objectives for achieving gender diversity. Both the policy and the assessment will need to be disclosed via the companies’ websites.
Shadow Superannuation minister Mathias Cormann, however, has accused Shorten of only acting to protect his vested interests.
“Today’s announcement of funding for the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees to encourage more women onto superannuation boards looks very much like another handout to the Minister’s union mates, rather than a genuine attempt to encourage diversity,” he said.
“The AIST represents only the union dominated industry super funds, yet there are many women who could make a valuable contribution to super boards in both the industry and retail sectors.
“This sudden announcement by the Minister with a record favouring his union mates looks suspiciously like more cynical politics.”
He added that Shorten must answer the following questions:
Were any other education providers considered?
Did the Minister consider a program that would have been available across the whole super sector?
Will women who are seeking careers in the retail superannuation fund sector have access to this funding? How will this be guaranteed?