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Campaign for more women on boards hits major milestone

11 July 2012 #Employment

The Government has set a target that 25% of board members of FTSE 250 companies be women by the year 2015. The ‘30 per cent Club,’ which works to increase the number of women in boardroom posts, has set that target at 30% (as reflected in the name!). Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Theresa May has said “More women on a company`s board is not just good for society; it`s also good for that company`s bottom line.”

A recent Women In Management event in London has reported a talk by Dr Janjuha-Jivraj where she drew on results from survey of 500 professional women working in PLCs, SMEs, public and third sectors to explain that the poor gender diversity in top tier positions was not due to a lack of relevant expertise or ambition among women and stated that one of the issues hindering the advancement of women in the workplace is the limited visibility of Board level vacancies. Women are thus unable to put themselves forward for Board positions.

However, fears have been expressed over the use of quotas to achieve boardroom diversity. Michael Reyner, partner at executive search firm MWM Consulting, has been reported as saying the focus of headhunters and their clients is to provide the most effective boards possible. Appointing more diverse boards is one of the ways of doing this “but obviously it isn’t the overriding objective”. He said. “Boards are trying to put together the right mix of skills, experience and personalities to add effective value”. “The fear we have with quotas is that if they are set at the wrong level or set with too short a timeframe that they’ll lead to a search for gender diversity as the overriding objective, which if done too bluntly could lead to appointments being made for the wrong reasons and lead to less effective boards.”

Some countries already have applied quotas, such as Norway, France and Spain. However, Norway is now said to be facing problems in finding women for non-executive roles. This problem is said to be overstated and that the UK has a far greater critical mass of talented women who are ‘board ready’.

Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30 per cent Club and chief executive of Newton Investment Management, said: “Although these figures are encouraging, if companies want more women at senior levels, they will have to be open to embracing practices which accommodate the expectations of their staff as well as their stakeholders. Technology can facilitate companies creating a working environment that will enable employees, of either gender, to feel able to succeed while respecting other areas of their lives.”

Do we come back to the same old question of work / life balance?

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