Chris Faulks, Canberra Business Council CEO. Photo: Supplied
Canberra has emerged as a microcosm of the Australia-wide lack of women on boards.
Prominent territory organisations have few women at the top level to set policy although moves are under way to address the imbalance.
While the territory's private sector is lagging, however, the ACT government is a ground breaker in having women on its boards.
Jeff House, Chief Executive of ClubsACT. Photo: Supplied
The Canberra Southern Cross Club has two women on an 11-member board, ClubsACT has one woman on its eight-member board and Actew has three women on a seven-member board.
The federal government is inviting business leaders to nominate talented women to sit on government boards to help them break through the glass ceiling.
The BoardLinks program will provide opportunities for women to be appointed to their first board and further their careers as directors.
Many Australian companies stress the need for prior board experience when appointing directors but few women hold board positions to begin with.
Finance Minister Penny Wong said on Tuesday the program was ''a practical step'' to suit the corporate sector.
''We're trying to encourage [women] being appointed to their first board and having that valuable first-board experience,'' she said.
Currently, just 14.6 per cent of board positions in ASX top 200 companies are held by women.
The program is similar to one run by the Howard government.
ACT Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Chris Peters said ACT government boards had very strong representation of women.
''The Stanhope and Gallagher governments have been seeking 50 per cent representation of women on boards and while that hasn't always been achieved, it's certainly made a huge difference,'' he said.
''Government boards like the Board of Senior Secondary Studies has a significant representation of women but in the private sector it's a different story.
''The ACT has very few large companies with professional boards in place.
''On larger companies here there is a lower representation of women than what we would like to see.
''In mid- and small-size companies, those boards are purely there because they have to have a board and they're not what I would call professional.''
Canberra Business Council chief executive Chris Faulks strongly supports the federal program.
''The council supports the view that [not only] private sector companies but also public sector boards need to have a skills-based diversity and that includes having a good representation of women,'' she said.
''We don't support quotas as such but there is a general recognition that about one-third as a starting point is a minimum, but I have to stress the selection of board members should be based on skill not on gender or age.
''Having said that, there are some excellent women in the private sector in Canberra who are running companies and others who are very well qualified to go on to boards.
''So it's not that there's a shortage of women, it's just that I think for a whole series of cultural and other factors, it's been a struggle to get a good representation of women on boards.
''Jocelyn Newman as a minister [in the Howard Government] initiated a program that was focused on encouraging ministers to ensure that women were identified and appointed to boards that each of them was responsible for, and over that period the number of women on government boards increased quite a lot.''
ClubsACT chief executive Jeff House said the organisation was actively engaged in trying to get more women on to its board and the boards of individual clubs.
''From the start of this year we've had a women in clubs network,'' he said.
The body recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the ACT government that included a provision to increase the role of women within the club movement.
The Australian Institute of Company Directors has received 1600 applications for 70 scholarships in a board diversity program for women to complete an institute director's course.
The institute also chose 12 people to complete an ACT public sector pilot mentoring program that is running for 12 months.
The institute's ACT manager, Philip Butler, said the territory had a higher representation of women on boards than other jurisdictions.
''That probably reflects our overall demographic in how women are in senior positions,'' he said. ''ACT government boards have often got good female representation.''