Gender balance still a big problem

IT IS NOW ONE YEAR since Lord Davies published his independent report setting out firm objectives to increase female representation on FTSE 100 boards to 25% by 2015.

Lord Davies acknowledged the report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2008), which said that unless things changed it would take another 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms. While Lord Davies decided not to introduce quotas it was clear they would follow if significant progress was not made. Quotas have been adopted in much of Europe.

The Davies Report made a number of recommendations that included all chairmen being asked to announce their aspirational goals by September 2011. But in September 2011 it was reported that only one third of FTSE 100 companies had drawn up such targets.

In their 2012 Corporate Governance Statements listed companies will be required to spell out their diversity policies with measurable objectives. However, we will have to see whether companies simply play lip service to these requirements and whether words become actions.

Since 2010 the CBI has reported that the number of women on FTSE 100 boards has risen from 88 to 156 but it is important that women attain executive roles as well as NED positions.

During 2011 numerous events and meetings were organised by professional bodies, corporates and government organisations to discuss the Davies Report albeit most have been led and attended by women. There has also been plenty of newspaper coverage, although little of this has evidenced the commitment of men to achieve change, but it has included an amusing number of stereotypical photographs of shoes and handbags.

Over the last year Crowe Clark Whitehill, together with IDDAS (board consultants) and Norman Broadbent (executive search consultants), has led four ‘Accelerated Board Attainment’ master classes intended to give women the tools to obtain and succeed in board positions. These have been open to men and women, and have been extremely well attended by women who are clearly very talented and committed. However, despite our concerted effort to encourage senior men to attend and support their colleagues the gender diversity in these meetings has been very low.

So what is my own view a year on? While there has definitely been some change and a lot of background noise, chief executives and chairmen have not yet taken this seriously, and few senior men have openly supported the Davies Report.

There has been no significant change in engrained attitudes, unconscious bias and practices within boards which continue to be passed down each generation. I understand the view that women would wish to be appointed based on merit, not quotas, but I cannot see the attitudes in boardrooms changing unless a prescriptive approach is adopted by the government.

The Davies Report promised the steering board would meet every six months to consider progress, and would report annually with an assessment of whether progress has been sufficient. It will be interesting to hear Lord Davies’ view on progress 12 months on.

Fiona Hotston Moore, partner, Crowe Clark Whitehill

The article epxresses the personal views of Hotston Moore

Image credit: Shutterstock

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