Progress stalls again for women on boards

anneholidayThe Cranfield International Centre for Women Leader’s has updated its research recently on the number of women on the boards of the UK’s top companies.

The results are, to say the very least, disappointing. Initially, in the first six months, it looked as though we were beginning to see some improvement on the number of women on boards of FTSE 100 and 250 companies.

However, those high levels were short-lived and over the second six months they have dropped to 26% (44% of new appointments to FTSE100 in first six months) and 29% (36% of new appointments to FTSE250 in first six months) respectively. These figures fall short of the numbers required to reach Lord Davies’ recommendation of 25% women on boards by 2015.

So, what to do? The quota debate continues to rage and if you have not already done so, read Jane Kenyon’s article in this month’s issue. I particuarly agree with her position on quotas on the basis that there has been sufficient time for this issue to be addressed and it has not worked. Based on the paltry improvement since the legislation of the 1970’s, voluntary requirements are not going to work.

The legislation we had in the 1970s set the ball rolling: the 1970 Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act 1975 did make a difference. I remember, as a student, taking advantage of my right to enter male-dominated pubs which had previously been closed to me as a women. I cannot say that it was a pleasant experience (it was Glasgow before its renaissance) as they were usually unpleasant places and the men’s attitide to me wasn’t much better, but I had the choice.

However, we have not built on these changes sufficiently. Many of the old male bastions came tumbling down but many continued to survive a long time afterwards and for many the damage had been done. Not a greatly dramatic example, but my younger sister was showing promise as a golfer, but gave it up as she resented the treatment she received at the club. Often unable to play with her male friends and barred from the bar at the end of the game, she decided it was not for her.

It is no longer as bad as that. However, in spite of that legislation, we know that employers find ways of continuing to pay men more, we know that women continue to be discriminated against in all sorts of ways and that is with legislation in place. So what chance do we have without some kind of regulation, to make things happen, to change things for the better? We know, don’t we, that if you speak to people, anyone, they agree that diversity is good for a company, research tells us that diversity is good for a company, so why is it still not happening? What do we have to do to change this situation? I agree with Jane Kenyon, forget worrying about sounding strident, we have to be heard and it has to be known: we women have had enough.

Rebecca Bonnington in her article, paints a strong picture of the lives of many women. I don’t detect any whining or sense of grievance in her words, she is just telling the reality of it. So, at what point are we going to be able to change this? How do we get the message over that, it is just not fair. I know, lots of things in life are not fair, and many of them cannot be changed, but this can.

Professor Susan Vinnicombe of the Cranfield School of Management says that they are making good progress working with some of the chairman of the large companies, covered by the Davies Report, but she admits that some of them still have their head in the sand, hoping it will all go away. What do they think they are playing at? Have they no sense of what is going on about them? Professor Ruth Sealy, also of Cranfield, says that those women who are being appointed are for the most part very experiened but points to the fact that there are few women coming through from outside the ‘corporate mainstream’.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, commenting on the report said: “Government continues to believe that a voluntary led approach is the best way forward. But today’s report also serves as a timely reminder to business that quotas are still a real possibility if we do not meet the target 25% of women on boards of FTSE companies by 2015.”

I bet those chairmen who are still not coming up to scratch are trembling in their boots, Vince!

So again, I am with Jane, let’s get those boats rocking and be as strident as you need to be!

Anne Casey is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.

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