PracticeAccounting FirmsMoving forward: best is best

Moving forward: best is best

As regular as clockwork, data will be produced suggesting that the number of women in top jobs across business, parliament and the civil service remains pitiful – and the Equal Opportunities Commission’s recent study on sex and power claims exactly that

This claim, however, misses the point significantly. Within a capitalist
society, neither sex nor creed has a birthright to numerically balanced
representation. Of much greater significance, rather than proportional
representation, is the power and influence of women. This does not, and will
never need to, derive from females running businesses.

For example, at HBOS, FTSE number 10, there are four females on the board.
The chief executive officer of the FTSE company in eleventh place, Anglo
American, is a woman. At HBOS, the group head of talent is female, and so are
the retail HR director and chief executive of the insurance investment division.

British Petroleum can boast Vivienne Cox, recently voted Veuve Cliquot
Business Woman of the Year, as one of the most influential people in one of the
largest companies in the world. If these surveys looked more carefully, they
would see that much wider balance of power exists; and this includes parliament
and the civil service. Equal opportunity means just that. It does not mean equal
representation.

A substantial percentage of the world’s economy is based on capitalist
principles. Squaring those principles with social rights is a long-term issue.
It is worth remembering that the post-war commitment to full employment referred
to full male employment. To that extent, women have only had a little more than
a 50-year opportunity to populate the corridors of power. Social revolutions
associated with education, child-bearing years and the return to work are still
evolving.

Within the professions, over 50% of the graduate intake into both accounting
and law is female, meaning there is a distinct possibility that a female will
one day soon head one of the Big Four accounting firms. Should that happen on
the basis of a truly outstanding woman, everybody will rejoice. If it is
tokenism, it will be a retrograde step.

Society, therefore, should step back a bit and stop seeking proportional
representation, and accept the fact that what matters most in a capitalist
economy is that the very best people run our enterprises – in both the private
and public sectors.

Andrew Garner is chief executive of Garner
International

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