Guest post by Gareth Cartman (learn more about Gareth at the end of this post)
It appears that patience is fast running out in the halls of the European Parliament. A vote to introduce quotas securing at least 30% of boardroom places for women by 2015 has gone through, and that rises to 40% by 2020. Countries are already adopting their own laws – France, for example, has moved to give women 20% of places in the board room, and 40% in six years, while the Netherlands has made it 30% by 2016.
Even Italy has got in on the act. Here in the UK, there’s no such law in place, nor are there any recommendations. We’re hardly leading the way. If we were to implement the EU’s recommendations, we would have to double, maybe even treble the number of women in the UK’s boardrooms.
Where are we now? 5.7% of FTSE 150 boardrooms are women. 21% of those companies have NO women on the board. Voluntary inclusion does not therefore result in an increase in representation.
Research carried out by Spencer Stuart shows that French businesses, who are now compelled by law, are seeking more diverse backgrounds in order to find female candidates. In fact, by doing so, they have found a wider talent pool, and more than 50% of boardroom appointments over the last year have been women.
That’s what I call progress. The selection process has been radically altered in order to find the best people. So, instead of positively discriminating by saying “this position has to be filled by a woman”, French businesses are actively seeking new skill sets, and filling positions accordingly – on merit. They are changing the way boards think, from the narrow focus of old (i.e. finance, sales, operations) to a new world vision (entrepreneurs, consultants, HR & communications).
Those much harped-about fears that enforcing equality within the boardroom would lead to positive discrimination and weaker boards – therefore weaker businesses – have been put to rest by a nation we generally don’t associate with forward business thinking. But then again, we were wrong. French businesses are traditionally female-friendly, with more women returning to work after maternity leave thanks to subsidised childcare, and more women climbing the ladder as a result.
So, back to the original question: do we have to force women into the boardroom? To a certain degree, yes, we do. By enforcing quotas on businesses, we enforce new behaviour. No business serious about its future would react to the quota by appointing women simply to meet a quota. They should react by reviewing how they appoint directors, and expanding the criteria so that they can tap into a wider talent pool. These new skills bring new attitudes and new thinking into board rooms, which can only be positive.
This shouldn’t be about advancing the cause for equality, it should be about establishing a more modern, natural order in the way we do business. If we require a quote to change that way of thinking, then so be it. Enforce away.
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