Wesfarmers director Diane Smith-Gander has sounded a warning about the large numbers of mostly male part-time directors serving on boards because of the increasing risks companies are facing.
Ms Smith-Gander, who is also a director of AGL Energy and sits on several other boards, said the controversy surrounding AMP and banks amid the financial services royal commission had shone a light on director professionalism.
“There are too many part-time directors. A lot of male part-time directors,” she said yesterday on the sidelines of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference.
“And I see young women who think that being a non-executive director is about being able to balance career and family.
“It’s a professional occupation. So I think it’s great we’re getting a wake-up call.”
Ms Smith-Gander said while the vast majority of directors were well-qualified, many did not benefit from the experience and variety of serving on a number of boards.
“I’m a better director because I have a full portfolio of diverse things. If you’ve got one or two directorships and you’re at that part-time it does make it much harder to keep refreshing yourself in today’s changing world.”
“The risk profile of being a non-executive director is increasing because the world is changing so much,” she said. “It’s not possible to have boards that are big enough to have all the skills you need.
“You have to be committed and within a very well-chaired strong setting to be able to do the task in the way it needs to be done given the increasing risk profile.”
Ms Smith-Gander dismissed commentary that directors should have been a chief executive, saying her past 10 years of experience on boards had made her a good director rather than her executive career.
“I know it’s really great to have CEOs around the table but they do come with some vested interests and some blind spots.”
The former president of CEO Women said the fact that the directors quitting the AMP board in the wake of its fees for no service scandal had been female was coincidental and instead because they were due for re-election.
“People who try to push it as a gender topic are doing us a disservice.”
She said media commentary linking the finance scandals to women directors had been “appalling”. “The imagery has not been helpful. It’s more than anything what has created this feeling that it’s a gender-based issue when it isn’t.”