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To quota or not to quota: that is the problem

AFTER A HIGHLY CHARGED debate German MPs voted last month against a proposal to introduce fixed female quotas on company boards. The decision by the Chancellor Angela Merkel to oppose quotas was a last minute U-turn following fierce debate which threatened to split her government. She did however agree to include a 30 % quota for female board representation from 2020 in her party’s election manifesto.

During the debate the Social Democrat MP Ms Hoegl who supports quotas commented that “men’s careers were decided in the gents”. This provocative comment clearly refers to a stubborn old boy’s network. Whilst the comment resulted in laughter in the male dominated government debate it should be noted that Germany has just 4% female representation on its board, which is one of the lowest across the developed world.

It is interesting to note that the topic almost caused a rebellion in the German vote. Perhaps, finally, across Europe including the UK, governments will be forced to introduce meaningful measures to address the bias which persists across the workplace in public companies, private sector and the professions. Indeed even when women decide to take control of their destiny and set up their own business, studies have shown they receive 50% less funding than their male counterparts.

Enough

I do not accept that there is a shortage of strong female board candidates. Indeed in our profession women accountants are well placed to step up to board positions. They have the academic qualifications, strong financial acumen, experience of corporate governance and broad commercial experience.
Female accountants in practice could undertake an NED role alongside their executive role and this could benefit the board they join, the development of the individual and thus their own firm.

Aspiring board members need to engage the help of an enlightened search agency to prepare a relevant focused CV. They should ask colleagues to critically assess their strengths and weaknesses and the attributes they bring to a board role. They need to let their external network know of their aspirations and seek support internally as its probable others within the firm may, through their networks, be in a position to introduce the individual to those seeking to fill board positions.

There is a long way to go but this debate is not going away and unless boards take it seriously and move beyond token appointments, governments will be forced to adopt quotas. Temporary quotas in my view are not discriminatory but address the inherent conscious and unconscious bias which exists in corporate culture.

Fiona Hotston Moore is corporate partner at Reeves

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