My 11 year old daughter is obsessed with Monopoly and has been since she was able to realise the income potential of property development in the deep blues – I think she was 8. I imagine I see real entrepreneurial potential in her: she is passionate about the game, plays by the rules with unswerving focus, and brushes aside rare defeats like they are a minor setback in her goal of supreme champion of the board.
The trouble is that the UK has a shocking lack of women on the board of UK’s top organisations, so what hope has she got? There are zero female board directors in the top 25 corporates.
Only 10% of board members of FTSE 100 are female and even Gordon Brown had only 4 women in the Cabinet.
One of the reasons given by a study conducted by the London Business School is a structural bias towards men in large organisations. If my daughter is going to succeed beyond the Monopoly table there needs to be a seismic attitudinal and institutional shift. So, if the question is: why are there so few female Non-Executive Directors (NED) in UK business? We really don’t need to look very far for the answer.
Angela Paterson, entrepreneur and owner of New Mojo management service feels the lack of high net-worth female business owners is also to blame. Angela is a professional NED on the board of several different enterprises and draws on her own successful business career which includes directorships and company ownership to inform her roles. She says that there are plenty of women in middle management in UK business, there are a lot of women sole traders or small business owners, but the lack of female board directors and entrepreneurs means that there are not enough women qualified with all the relevant experience to become an NED. She wants to see more women growing their businesses, developing strategy, taking on staff, succession planning and overcoming the many obstacles that confront business owners today.
The role of an NED often requires making tough decisions. Whether as a paid or unpaid NED, she may have to advise on the termination of executive directors, appointment of new directors, succession planning, and challenge the performance of the management team. A detached and unemotional perspective on a company’s strategy is one of the key functions of an NED and it is important that she can confidently communicate her proposals for improvement and change to the executive board.
Typically NEDs are part-time and often unpaid, particularly in the public sector. Even in private industry there is a huge variation in remuneration packages. So this suggests that the erstwhile empire builder is also something of a philanthropist, ready to lend back to the business community some of her knowledge and experience for little return. This requires an enormous commitment from the director and respect from the board.
Angela has made a business success of being an NED because she insists on having a clearly defined role from the outset. She engages prospective boards through networking and gets to know her clients needs before they appoint her. Both parties already have the start of a professional relationship before embarking on the directorship.
If women in business are to progress to non-executive directors they need to get tough in their own business careers and be uncompromising in reaching their goals. Effective networking targeted with specific aims is always a helpful strategy. Where women embark on their own business there needs to be an environment of encouragement and support from the business community, banks, trade institutions etc. Parenthood should not be a barrier to fulfilling an ambitious career if there is the right kind of support in terms of finance and childcare.
I hope that by the time my daughter enters the world of business there will be more women in both executive and non executive roles and we will not give it a second thought.