I frequently find myself caught up in discussions, either on line or face to face, about quotas for the numbers of women on boards in the UK. I used to say rather tentatively that I reluctantly agreed with quotas in this case. But actually I have changed my mind.
I am not reluctant at all. I categorically think there should be quotas and companies should be forced to comply!
In 2011 former Labour minister Lord Davies recommended recommended that companies in the FTSE 100 should have 25pc female board membership by 2015. The figure had been static at 12% for a number of years. The message was clear – if you don’t do this voluntarily we’ll force you. Mainstream business huffed and puffed at this and said there weren’t enough qualified women to do this and that it wouldn’t and couldn’t happen. Here’s an extract typical of what was being said in the media after Lord Davies’ report:
Samuel Johar, chairman of the headhunter Buchanan Harvey, says: “Most chairmen in the FTSE 100 and 250 are quite keen to have more women on boards. The question is about available women. It’s a supply issue. Companies have not historically mentored or trained women as they have progressed up their careers. There are not enough women at senior levels in companies.”
Industry experts agree businesses need to put more effort into developing female talent on the career ladder, but warn change will not happen overnight.
Richard Emerton, head of board practice at Korn/Ferry International, agrees the female supply of candidates that fit chairmen’s requirements is limited. Chairmen generally want to hire people with profit and loss experience onto their boards, he says – those that have run major divisions within FTSE companies or who have experience as non-executive directors elsewhere. “The trouble with trying to find women is there are far more men who have profit and loss experience,” Emerton explains. The issue is not so much that there aren’t capable women – but that they don’t fit the required mould.
Fast forward to media coverage this month (July 2012):
An annual study of boardroom gender by the Cranfield School of Management said there had been a “significant move in the right direction” since publication of a report by Lord Davies a year ago.
There are now 141 women holding 163 board seats in FTSE 100 firms, while the number of companies with no women board members has fallen to 11.
Out of 190 new board appointments in the past year, 47 were to women, the research revealed.
Professor Susan Vinnicombe, co-author of the report, said: “The past 12 months have seen a significant amount of global activity around diversifying boards. After a decade of incremental increases in the UK, we are pleased to be reporting improvements that are more substantive.
“If the momentum we have seen since the Lord Davies’ review continues we could achieve 30pc women on boards in less than four years, which would be a terrific achievement.
That is brilliant, very good news, and I don’t decry it at all. The threat of legislation has moved businesses to act and find these women that previously were deemed not to exist.
But I fear that once the pressure to change is removed the impetus will be lost and the status quo will prevail. If it’s not a problem finding suitable women now why will it be any more of a problem if legislation is introduced? If something is right, it’s right and should be a right. Right?
Thinking of expanding your training business? I can help you. To find out more, click here.
Posted on July 16th, 2012 by Jane