International Women’s Day 2012 has already passed with, it seems to me, even less impact than usual. There is still a chronic shortage of women serving as non-executive directors on the boards of major companies, including banks. The Davies Report published at the end of 2011 could shed little light on the true reasons for this.
Are women in business less ambitious than men? For those who have children is there less of an imperative, as well as time and energy, to climb the corporation mount which might qualify them for board memberships. Do the men, who largely make up these boards still believe women are unable to evaluate risk and take rational decisions on major investment markets and international economic conditions. Reluctantly I have to say “yes”.
Throughout my working life as a business studies lecturer, a senior manager and Chief Executive Officer of a social enterprise childcare organisation, combined with an active career in politics I have had many opportunities to observe the truth behind these observations. Indeed I still don’t really know how I became political leader of a Council group of 23 people – mostly men with a very close vote deciding the outcome.
One truth I have discovered is every woman who runs a household, takes the lion or lioness’s share of the bringing up of children and is responsible in time for the care of older members of the family has the makings of a company director. She has the ability to prioritise, rationalise, demand and get answers to questions of finance, social responsibility and organisational skills of great complexity.
Currently I am working with the Group “Changing the Diversity of Scottish Boards”. We are concentrating on identifying the skills needed to bring this about, regardless of the sex of the individuals who we believe can, and should be making a major contribution. I have been a non-executive director covering a number of areas of activity, including the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, The Edinburgh Science Festival, Edinburgh Development and Investment Limited, Training 2000 Ltd and the former Monktonhall colliery. A number of these resulted from being an elected Councillor but the experience gained from them gave me a good grounding in what is needed.
Over ten years ago I co-founded West Lothian Women in Business, an organisation supported by West Lothian Council Economic Development Department as well as local businesses. We set out to support women entrepreneurs and women managers I n developing their skills and abilities. I chaired the group for four years before moving back to Edinburgh to pursue other interests but I remain a member and the organisation still flourishes.
I have concentrated in this article on the business and professional aspects but we also need to ensure more women choose to study science, engineering and energy fields to give real marketable skills in an ever-changing economic world. Many women, as well as men, want to have careers in the Arts. As a visiting lecturer at St Andrews University on Cultural Entrepreneurship I am surprised at the lack of business awareness displayed by students who aspire to make a living from their creativity and am currently “on a mission” to put this right.
As Jane Austen wrote in Persuasion “The woman’s cause is man’s, they rise or fall together.” Hopefully more men and women will remember that as we go through difficult economic and social times.
Christine Richard, OBE, FRSA
1 April 2012