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Women on boards: two years on, work in progress

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Yet Carr admits that the big challenge lies in increasing the proportion of female executive directors. I think that this is very?much work in progress,” he says. Developing a pool of women at the highest level for industry generally not only in boardrooms but in executive committees will take time. But it needs addressing now.

His view is echoed by Christine Hodgson, chairman of IT consultancy firm Capgemini UK and another member of the 30% Club. There isn’t necessarily a queue of women waiting to step on to your board,” she says. Getting more female executive directors will take much longer than getting non-executive directors. Companies first need to address the talent pipeline, which involves getting much more into the heart of organisations and promoting women from the inside.

One of Capgemini UK’s missions is to increase the proportion of women in its workforce. At present 26 per cent of its employees are female, falling to 17 per cent at vice-president level and above.

?Will the split ever be 50:50″ I?don’t think so,” Hodgson says. Our sector simply doesn’t attract as many women as others do, so we need to have realistic expectations and avoid positive discrimination for the sake of a statistic.

But not everyone agrees that there is a lack of suitably qualified women. There’s a hell of a supply of skilled women out there,” argues Liz Nelson, co-founder of market research giant Taylor Nelson Sofres. There really should be no difficulty in filling spaces when they become free.

She was disappointed when the Davies report was published two years ago. I believed that quotas were vital if this was going to work. I didn?t feel that gentle persuasion would be sufficient, even with monitoring,” she explains. I’ve since been proved both right and wrong: the report has made a difference to female representation on boards, but this has been among non-executive directors only. If anything, there has been a negative result for executive directors.

Indeed, today only two FTSE-100 companies have female chief executives Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts and Imperial Tobacco’s Alison Cooper after Pearson’s Marjorie Scardino and Anglo American’s Cynthia Carroll left their posts last October. Women such as Ruby McGregor-Smith, chief executive of Mitie, also remain a rarity in the FTSE 250.

The talent pipeline

So how can businesses develop their emerging management and executive talent” Carr argues that companies need to focus on executive committees. (The Davies report also recommended that all CEOs should review the percentage of women they aim to have on their executive committees in 2013 and 2015.)

“That’s the area where women should be making a big contribution, but they are not in the numbers that one would hope,” Carr says. It takes time; it takes changes of practice, process, behaviour and culture in organisations to enable that to happen. Women still face more of a challenge than men in balancing their domestic and working lives. Businesses therefore need to be more accommodating, providing an easier path for women to follow in order to take jobs at the highest level.

Fiona Cannon, diversity and inclusion director at Lloyds Banking Group, says that companies need to look at how they are organised. The £19th century model” of work 9am to 5pm, five days a week and linear careers from 16 through to the age of 60 does not enable us to meet the economic, technological, demographic and social changes that we are facing. Women don’t have linear careers, for example. Without changing the model, we re in danger of tinkering at the edges without effecting long-term, sustainable change.

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