Darren Timmins: Are we really still talking about diversity?

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Here at Otravida we believe that diversity helps to breed success. And following the news that Germany is set to implement boardroom gender quotas from 2016, we decided to look at the issue to see if this could provide the solution to the ongoing gender debate. It’s been found that businesses with even one third senior female staff outperform their rivals on profit margins by 42% so it would make sense for organisations to diversify in the boardroom. But why isn’t more of this happening?

Currently only 17.3% of FTSE 100 boardroom positions are occupied by women and this number doesn’t look like improving any time soon. It seems baffling that so many organisations have such gender homogeny at a senior level. By removing almost any female representation you’re essentially cutting your talent pool in half which can’t be a sustainable approach for the future. For any business to thrive they need gender diversity that runs through all levels, but there still seems to be a dearth of females at the top end of UK business. So why are there so few women in the boardroom?

Last year there were almost 300,000 more women than men at UK universities and they’ve consistently achieved higher grades than their male counterparts at almost all levels of education. This suggests the problem is rooted in the nature of companies rather than with the professionals themselves. Businesses need to think about the kind of environments they’re creating for a female professional to work in, particularly at senior level. The stereotypical boardroom is male oriented and, traditionally, isn’t the most welcoming setting for women to come in and make their mark. In the modern day, organisations need to be more flexible around issues like maternity leave and, if research is to be believed, even marriage. They have to learn to judge performance based on output rather than hours put in. If they don’t, they risk worsening the current situation and could potentially deter women from putting themselves forward for roles in the future. Some have also suggested that the lack of female role models in UK business is to blame, although the high-profile arrival of Liv Garfield, who will become the youngest female FTSE boss when she takes over at Severn Trent, may go some way to help change this.

So are quotas the answer? Maybe, but while the motive behind the changes is good, the outcome has been seen as patronising by many who don’t want this to represent an ‘easy route’ into the boardroom. There’s no point in parachuting in women to fill senior positions just to tick boxes. A sustainable and long-term approach that pipelines talent to senior level needs to be created, but this can’t be done without the drive and determination of the professionals themselves.

One thing’s for sure, something has to be done about the lack of women at a senior level.  Do you think the boardroom quotas will make the difference? Let us know by commenting below.

Darren Timmins is Head of Otravida Search, an executive search and selection organisation delivering bespoke and agile talent solutions.

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4 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Is the real issue gender diversity or functional and competency diversity? To exaggerate to make a point: would it be better to increase the number of male Board members who had a more empathetic or people-centric leadership style, or the number of female Board members who behave like classic Board member ‘Alpha males’?

  2. Not quotas but boosting confidence for women as they move up the corporate ladder. Flexible working, mentoring and training are all key and, yes, also empathetic and welcoming male board members.

  3. I believe quota will encourage the changes needed to promote more already capable and skilled women through the ranks. Evidence that this is not happening fast enough without the requirement for pressure. Join the lively discussion of a variety of views posted in 30%Club http://buff.ly/199c6Nd

  4. Two points I agree with completely:
    “They have to learn to judge performance based on output rather than hours put in” – absolutely – it’s what you achieve that matters, not how long you are sat at your desk!
    “There’s no point in parachuting in women to fill senior positions just to tick boxes” – quotas will surely result in an environment where women are viewed as having got a free ride to their position and will have to work even harder to prove that they are worthy of it.

    The answer lies in a cultural change – a belief that individuals should be judged and promoted on their abilities, skills and achievements not on their gender. And policies and working practices need to accommodate and facilitate all individuals in being able to pursue their family obligations and be successful in their career – it’s not about ‘maternity’ policies per se – it’s about making policies that facilitate men and women accessing these rights equally so that women are no longer viewed as a burden.

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