At the Stockholm Summit in mid-February David Cameron raised hackles as he indicated that introducing quotas for leading companies for the number of women on their boards would not be ruled out by UK government. Here our NE responds to the threat of enforced gender balancing.
The Lord Davies report Women on Boards warned that it will take 70 years to balance boards if we continue at the current rate of change (p27). While this might be undesirable, forcing quotas onto companies will not solve the problem. The message about women on boards should be one about quality, not quantity – and quotas will not resolve this.
There is clearly a business case for gender balance on boards, but there is the assumption that this is due to prejudice or discrimination, when in fact it’s probably more a question of supply and demand, particularly in the case of manufacturing.
If you look at the pool of female talent in manufacturing generally and then look at the number of women with the ability and desire to be company directors, the figure is probably tiny. Any potential woman director needs not only that ability to become a board director, but also the desire, for without this she will not demonstrate the assertive drive anyone needs in order to reach the top.
Being a company director is very different to being an engineer or production manager and is not generally a goal that many have at the outset of their careers – whatever engineering discipline they specialise in. Perhaps laying out a clear career path with the possibility of directorship as a goal at the start of training would help. Public role models and case studies could encourage young women to have the confidence to put this on their career agenda early on and clarify the skills that will be needed in addition to core professional competencies.
But the talent pool undoubtedly needs to be grown and this will not happen with any speed using present methods. Colleges and universities need to have policies in place and careers advice should come from those in industry who know the breadth of opportunities in manufacturing, as opposed to lifetime careers advisors with limited knowledge of the real world of manufacturing.
“I’m pretty sure that we could reach the goal of balance sooner than in 70 years, but this is not going to be achieved by legislation nor can it can be solved by a numbers-driven recruitment drive” – March’s NE
Board recruitment methods also need to be more transparent and open. In my experience, the methods used for recruiting directors, whether executive or non-executive, are, more often than not, the results of discussions between company executives about whom they know that would be a good candidate.
This is generally limiting. But since director posts are not advertised, particularly in medium-sized firms, an ongoing circle of exclusivity persists. This is very hard for women – a relatively new and unknown quantity to the sector – to break through. Small and medium sized company boardrooms are intimate places.
With these challenges being particularly defined in SME companies, it is unhelpful for the public debate to constantly focus on the FTSE companies.
How the recruitment method problem is to be solved I’m not sure, but it is not appropriate for government to dictate to private companies about the recruitment of directors.
I’m pretty sure that we could reach the goal of balance sooner than in 70 years, but this is not going to be achieved by legislation nor can it can be solved by a numbers-driven recruitment drive.
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