Women in the boardroom

On the back of Lord Davies’ reporting1 into why women are under represented at board level, several notable figures have taken up the mantle, including Vince Cable, Secretary of State Business Innovation and Skills. He wrote to members of the FTSE 100 earlier this year, stating: “The argument for more women in the boardroom is clear – they bring fresh perspectives and ideas, talent and broader experience which leads to better decision making. This is not just about equality at the top of our companies. It is about good business sense.”2

On June 19th the Conservative Women’s Forum published, “Executive Women in the Workplace: Building the Executive Pipeline of Talent”. The report stated: “More and more companies are recognising the value of diversity in order to access a wider talent pool, develop a better mix of leadership styles and maximise business performance.”

Yet, the numbers of senior executive women is falling, indeed the figures are stark. Only 3% of FTSE 100 CEOs are female, down from 5% in 2011. Only 5.8% of executive directors are women, down from 6.6% in 2012 and women on executive committees have fallen to 15.3% from 18% in 2009.3

David Cameron appears to admire the approach of Nordic-Baltic leaders where women hold a substantive number of boardroom posts.4 Norway in particular boasts an outstanding 40% as a result of imposing quotas in 2008.5 However most women would reject the imposition of quotas ‘by discrimination’ and many challenge the idea of a ‘golden skirt’5, preferring to reach the top on their own merit. Moreover there is an argument for saying that quotas apply to fish stocks, not to women!6

So, what is to be done? Like many thorny questions, the answer lies in many quarters, but not least in the hands of women themselves. The glass ceiling is often quoted and its perpetuation merely serves to reinforce the perceived barrier to natural progression. A survey of 3,000 managers conducted by the Institute of Leadership & Management7 uncovered that 73% of female managers believe that the glass ceiling is alive and well and that, combined with perceived low levels of self confidence appears to hold many women back. The glass ceiling needs to be metaphorically smashed, it’s the pink elephant in the room and it only exists if women pay homage to it.

Western women struggle with the idea that they cannot have it all – why is that? Of course you can have it all – you just have to map out what having it all means to you and make it work; most probably by allowing others to help you. If you think about it, one of the reasons why women falter in their careers is that they try to ‘do it all’. If a man were to have a baby he would no doubt enlist the help of family, or a good nanny; as well as a cleaner and personal shopper …. yet some women still struggle with the ‘Super Woman‘ idle of the 80’s and 90’s and insist on doing everything themselves. If you want a significant career, employ some ‘gender intelligence’ and work collaboratively with others.

It makes sense. Women are superb at building supportive networks, embracing every facet of being a working woman and adapting their skills. There is no reason why women have to wait for legislation and the old boys network to get them to the top.

1 Women on the boards April 2013 Lord Davies of Abersoch

2 http:www.gov.uk/government/news/women-on-boards-2013-two-years-on

3 Executive Women in the Workplace 2013 `Inquiry – Building the Executive Pipeline of Talent

4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-polotics-16958852

5 The Actuary – The gender gap: are ‘Golden Skirts’ the answer?”

6 Sharon Glancy Financial Times March 2013

7 Ambition and Gender at Work – Institute of Leadership & Management February 2011