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ABC chair recruitment process “bizarre”: SA board member

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Adelaide-based ABC board member Donny Walford has criticised the all-female panel who shortlisted three male candidates to chair the public broadcaster, saying the recruitment process was a reflection of gender inequity in the corporate world.

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Speaking at a “Women in Leadership” lunch in Adelaide yesterday, Walford, who also owns an executive coaching business, said she found it “bizarre” that the panel recruiting for the ABC chair did not shortlist any females.

Media veteran Ita Buttrose was named as the new chair of the ABC last month, after her predecessor Justin Milne resigned amid pressure from allegations he sought to have senior journalists sacked in response to political interference.

Prior to her appointment, former media executives Kim Williams and Greg Hywood, and Sydney lawyer Danny Gilbert had been shortlisted by a panel tasked with recruiting to the position.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “disappointed” that no women were shortlisted and later elevated Buttrose to the top position, disregarding the panel’s selection.

“It is true that she [Buttrose] was not one of those who have been independently recommended, and I can confirm that the independent recommendations did not include a female candidate,” he said at the time.

The panel included retired public servant Helen Williams, lawyer Sally Pitkin and journalist Anne Fulwood, and was chaired by retired senior public servant Ted Evans.

Senate estimates heard last month that the company brought in to run the recruitment process – Korn Ferry – was paid more than $160,000 to narrow down the list of potential names.

Walford said yesterday that Evans had been unwell during all the recruitment interviews “so three females actually put up three males”.

“I find that bizarre,” she said.

She said Prime Minister Scott Morrison should have said to the panel at the start of the recruitment process: “Don’t bother with a shortlist that doesn’t have equal opportunity to therefore get males and females and if you can’t get a shortlist that has a male and female on it, then I’ll get someone who can”.

“Until we start pushing back more on even internal recruiting and have at least as many women than men to get to the interview stage then it’s obviously up to the best person or the best interviewee to win the job,” Walford said.

“That’s what we should be striving for.”

Walford said there had not been a lot of change in addressing gender equality in the workforce “for many years”.

“We’ve made some great inroads into getting more women into management, into executive roles and onto boards but we still don’t have that magic number of 30 per cent of women represented on boards or in management or executive roles,” she said.

InDaily contacted the Prime Minister’s office for comment from both the Minister and panel members but was referred to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who is yet to respond.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) Chief Executive Paul Murphy told the ABC in February that it was concerning the Government ignored the panel’s recommendations.

“There is an independent panel selection process in legislation which the Government has yet again ignored,” Murphy said.

“That’s not a reflection on Ita Buttrose but it’s an important point we’ve been raising.”

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