Event report: Women on Boards – An International Conference

By 13.12.12BlogSeptember 2nd, 2020No Comments

On the 12th of December, The High Pay Centre held an international conference in partnership with The Guardian and The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung to debate the issue of gener diversity on boards and mandatory quotas

Research for the High Pay Centre by Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann that was released at the conference showed quotas for women on boards were not necessarily leading to greater diversity lower down the company.
Richard Emerton, senior client partner at KFWM introduced the research and posed several questions for discussion: What are the reasons for encouraging more boardroom diversity? Are women coming out of the executive pipeline to build plural non-executive careers and what needs to be down to drive the debate out of the boardroom and further down the organisation?

The international panel tried to answer some of those questions. Mari Teigen from Norway said it could be taking some time for quotas to work through the ranks. That’s because board positions came up more often than those in company management.

She refuted the “golden skirts” myth that quotas had only helped a small number of women into plural non-executive careers. “Between 80-90 per cent of women and men sit on only one board,” she said. However, research showing any benefits from women on boards was mixed.

In Spain, the government had not introduced any sanctions with its quota regime which meant companies could just pay lip service, according to Alyssia Martinez Poza.

Pierre Henri-Leroy from France defended the quota system and encouraged anyone present to offer their CV as long as they could speak French and wanted to sit on a board.

Jutta von Falkenhausen from Germany believes there will be little progress to get more women involved in management without a quota system. So far, Germany has resisted this and female representation is overwhelmingly confined to employee representatives on supervisory boards. She called for more to be done to change the culture of business to make it more attractive to women.

That call was echoed by Justine Roberts on the UK panel who said 80 percent of Mumsnet users believed they were less likely to be promoted after having children. The mums were, however, more split on quotas with 55 percent in favour and 45 percent against. Justine called on childcare to be made more affordable and men to take on their share of the parenting.

Sacha Sadan is putting pressure on UK companies where it hurts. Legal and General believe better boardroom diversity adds financial value and he had met 325 chairmen this year to tell them that. If companies have no clear policy on diversity and no women on the board by 2014, Sadan said L&G will vote against the re-election of the chairmen.

Support for legislation came from Nadim Zahawi at the end of this parliamentary term if companies don’t get up to 30 percent of women on their boards. He believes the causes of the financial crisis were exacerbated by a testosterone-fuelled culture on bank trading floors that distorted the decision-making. He wants to see much more diverse boards with people who are not just going to agree with each other.

All-women shortlists had helped improve diversity in parliament, according to Rachel Reeves, and could be used as a model in the boardroom. But she is in favour of a more voluntary approach that is beginning to pay off.

Nathalie Bennett wants to see 40 percent of women on boards, gender pay audits and the potential for job-sharing MPs.

There was a general feeling among participants and the audience that change is taking a long time. There was a lot of frustration about the lack of ambition among some campaigners and a belief that companies and headhunters could go a lot further towards improving gender balance if they worked harder at it and took a more creative approach.