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Australia is pushing for more women in boardrooms

[SYDNEY] Australia is making a big gender equality push in the corporate sphere - setting a target for women to hold 30 per cent of board seats for S&P/ASX 300 companies by the end of 2021.

The 30% Club Australia is kicking off a campaign for the targets on Friday, which is International Women's Day. The push is focused on smaller-cap companies. The group is establishing an investment banking and private equity working group to seek support from the business community, it said in a statement.

"The community at large expects the composition of boards to reflect the broader Australian population," said Nicola Wakefield Evans, chairman of the 30% Club Australia. "I believe the time is right to look beyond ASX 200 companies."

Australian bluechip companies including BHP Group have shown improvement in promoting women to leadership positions in recent years. The world's biggest mining company in February promoted three women to its executive leadership team. The most recent gender diversity report from the Australian Institute of Company Directors shows that women held 29.7 per cent of ASX 200 board positions, a 10 percentage point increase since 2015.

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The ASX has long indicated it wants businesses to set gender representation targets in annual reports. Still, the 30% Club notes that 50 companies on the S&P/ASX 200 still have only one woman on their board, while ARB Corporation Ltd, Emeco Holdings Ltd, and TPG Telecom Ltd have none. Across the Asia-Pacific, only about 7.8 per cent of board seats are held by women, according to Deloitte's Women in the boardroom report.

"It's been proven that gender diversity can be reached without quotas and intervention as long as there are passionate advocates for diversity," Wakefield Evans said.

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