One of my favourite films is an old black and white movie from 1946; ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. A great film, however, it was made when there was a required practice of having a ‘token’ black person in the movie to satisfy the requirements of a quota system. This position went to Annie played by Lillian Randolph; the maid to the family. She had an important role and that was to be seen to satisfy the requirements of the quota but not show off her talents.
There is an increasing pressure to introduce quotas to improve the number of women at senior level, particularly Board Room level, by introducing a quota system.
What do we believe that the quota will achieve?
Throughout time, quotas have been used to increase representation of a number of under-represented groups. These quotas have succeeded in improving representation and therefore by introducing a quota system women will have an opportunity to be at the decision making table.
Is that sufficient? What role will they have or be perceived to have? There is a real risk that they are seen not contribute in a value adding or equal way. If this proves to be the outcome it would, in my view, undermine the great work done by the inspirational women who have worked so hard to get appointed to senior roles based upon merit, contribution and commitment; the 12.5 per cent of women already successfully contributing to the Boards of FTSE 100 companies.
Gender equality is absolutely important. The opportunity to create equality is to understand the requirements of a Board in post-recession UK and respond to them. The global economy has been thrown into chaos largely because of Boards failing to discharge their obligations.
As a consequence a number of reviews have been commissioned to understand what has happened, what lessons haven learned and what we can do differently in the future. These reviews, in my opinion, set out a new recipe with the same ingredients. At best the reviews recommend better sameness. For example, the revised version of the UK Corporate Governance Code (2010) was published by the Financial Reporting Council on 28 May 2010. This sets out standards of good practice for listed companies on board composition and development, remuneration, shareholder relations, accountability and audit. The Code does not set out a guarantee of effective board behaviour. This is down to each organisation to embrace the spirit of the Code. Within an outline framework Boards can decide for themselves how they should act.
Across industry we all wear many hats; employee, shareholder, consumer, etc. We have the opportunity to create a shift in the effective governance and operations of businesses.
This is the opportunity for women (and men) to act as change agents to make UK businesses more successful and by raising their voices in a way that contributes to a sustainable economy. We should not accept better sameness but pro-actively look for opportunities to contribute and improve business.
In his recent review of the representation of women Lord Davies recommends that UK listed companies in the FTSE 100 should be aiming for a minimum of 25% female board member representation by 2015. Achievable? Yes. Sustainable? Yes, but only if those women appointed are appointed upon their performance and potential and not as part of a quota system.
Kim Walker has extensive experience of working with organisations and their leaders to navigate change. Throughout her career Kim has built her expertise by combining forward thinking theory with practical application to develop sustainable solutions. Her work has resulted in tangible bottom line results. She previously held senior roles and has been at the forefront of change in fast paced and dynamic organisations in the financial services, utilities and media industries. In addition she has extensive consulting experience working across all sectors of industry. Kim has an MBA, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. She is also an appointed Lay Member of the Employment Tribunal in Scotland. Kim is MD at The Advance Consultancy (UK) Ltd, (www.advanceconsultancy.co.uk)