Update: I wrote this post some time ago but sadly nothing much has changed. I stand by my words.
If you read the many posts and comments on this topic you’ll find that most seem to think that mandatory quotas for women on boards will mean that any women on boards will be discredited. That because if the government is forced into action all women on boards will be merely tokenistic. That no woman appointed once mandatory quotas are in force will feel that she has earned her place on merit and is there by her own efforts.
Well I think that’s rubbish.(This is my polite version)
Yes, those who oppose gender equality will have a lot to say about the women appointed. It’ll be grist to their ‘women aren’t good enough’ mill.
They will be unlikely to be able to find women who fit their standard idea of what a good board member is because their standard idea is a male one. Clearly women will be sadly lacking in the penis department. So they will appoint tokenistic women to fill their quota and sit back and wait for them to fail. No winners there.
Those who are ambivalent will use it as a cop out if the women appointed aren’t ten times better than their male counterparts. “I never really thought it was a good idea… they can’t handle the cut and thrust of proper business”.
Never mind the thousands of so-so, just good enough but not brilliant men on boards already (well, we’re in a fine pickle and it wasn’t a majority of women who brought us to this); they are men so the same standards of comparison don’t apply. Just watch what happens when one (it’ll only need one) high profile woman fails:
“We knew they weren’t up for it. If we’d been allowed to appoint who we wanted this would never have happened.”
It has been the same story every time equalities legislation is enforced. We currently have a Government in the UK who likes the ‘free’ market and is today pledging at the CBI conference :
To make Government work faster by streamlining equality rules and legal red tape.
The Prime Minister also said opponents of planning decisions and policies would be given less time to apply for judicial review, face higher fees and see the chances to appeal halved.
He also said Equality Impact Assessments would no longer be compulsory, and consultation periods would be slashed.
The point is the market is not ‘free’, not if you don’t fit the male and white (and Eton?) mould. If leaving things alone worked we wouldn’t have such gender inequalities like men consistently earning more than women for the same jobs, or more women losing their jobs in the recession, or so few boards with women on them.
If you believe that women are inferior to men in some way then it makes sense; naturally boards with that attitude won’t be able to find enough good women.
But it may be that initially even very pro women boards will find it hard to get the calibre of female talent they want. Few women have been groomed for a place on the board in the way that many men are. It will take a bit of searching, effort, and some encouragement and planning. Some companies are well placed for this, others will find themselves well behind if they have not been developing their female talent and introducing gender equality policies and practices.
And women have got to step up and make themselves available. I know, and am privileged to work with, many women who would be an asset to any board. In the same way that the poor old BBC couldn’t find a female expert the other month to talk about breast cancer (doesn’t that beggar belief?) companies have to broaden their horizons. The old way of recruiting will not work; they will have to cast their net wider.
If we are to move forward in this country then women should be as equally represented in powerful positions as are the men. Women and men bring different things to the board table and companies profit when those talents are utilised to the full. Check out Why Women on Boards? The Evidence
I know it’s almost de rigour to poke fun at the EU and their tedious regulations but in this case I hope it triumphs. I hope the twitter chat is true and that the headlines tomorrow read:
The EU has approved the proposals from justice commissioner Viviane Reding to have 40% of women on company boards by 2020.
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Posted on November 19th, 2012 by Jane