I continue to be bemused and frustrated at the low participation levels of women in public office and as I spend most of my time with entrepreneurial women I am even more frustrated at their reluctance to step up and accept a non exec position.
This is clearly NOT a question of talent. Nor is it about value. The jury is now out on that one. It has now been proved beyond doubt that companies with more women at the top make more profits, return a higher value to shareholders and cut a company’s chances of going bust by 20%. With these stats you would think business leaders would be staging an all out recruitment drive to encourage and entice women onto their boards would you not? Erm… Interestingly they are not!
The world of Non-Exec positions is still an old boy’s network, it’s a ‘you scratch my back and sit on our board John and we will return the favour, then we satisfy all legal requirements and we can chat over whisky in the club a few times a year’ kind of affair. I may be being a tad unfair here and I am not suggesting ALL appointments are made this way but as usual when you are trying to change the status quo it’s a good idea to know the worst case scenario!
Whenever I tentatively suggest to a woman that her skill set is in demand and it may be worth investigating Non-Exec positions or role on a charity board, I am pretty sure you can guess the immediate, knee-jerk response? After modesty comes the ever present ‘you have to be joking, I can barely get through the week with what I am doing now, to accept any further commitments would be suicidal!’ This raises several issues. Apart from a need to sell the concept better (most women and men have no idea what a non-exec position entails, the time commitment, responsibilities, role etc) both the government and business community needs to take a more pro-active position to engage women. No-one wants to be the token women on ANY board.
It is an impossible task, to be expected to act on behalf of every woman, to have your every move and decision analysed and debated in relation to some hidden gender objective is unnerving and quite frankly a complete turn off for most women who just want to be valued on their own merit and left to get on with it!
The time factor is a little more complicated and more about choices and behaviour models. Why do we cling to our superwoman cape? Why do we struggle to say NO and rarely accept help when it is offered? Why do we feel guilty when delegating household chores or any tasks for that matter? Why do we continue to set such high standards for every aspect of our life and feel the need to be perfect at everything when we readily accept that other people are not perfect?
This is about self care, learning to let go, getting some balance and structure to our working week, setting some boundaries, but most of all it is about knowing and loving self. I think that in our quest for equality, personal fulfilment and economic parity we have become a little overwhelmed, as we have not re-adjusted the rest of our life to cater for our advancement. We need to take a personal stocktake and realignment and until we do this, our ability to be more pro-active and influence the big picture will remain elusive and be relegated to the bottom of an ever growing ‘to do list.’
Incidentally, as an aside, every woman I have EVER asked about entering politics replies saying they do not care enough, nor have enough respect for any ONE party and therefore would find it impossible to pin their colours to a mast. Fancy debating this one? How long have ya got?!