Women on boards: comments from the community

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Almost a quarter (23.5%) of all FTSE 100 board positions are now being filled by female staff, with just 17 places left to fill before reaching the 25 percent target for 2015, the fourth annual Davies report revealed this week.

Responses to the news have been positive, but there are still suggestions for improvement such as helping mothers reach those high level positions.

Katja Hall, CBI Deputy-Director General, said:

“To keep up momentum businesses must now continue to work on building the talent pipeline by supporting more women to take on management roles and helping mothers return to work.

“The Government must allow businesses to take the lead in this agenda, but it can also do more to help by extending free childcare, tackling occupational stereotypes in schools and promoting the benefits of flexible working.”

Marianna Fotaki, Professor of Business Ethics at Warwick Business School and co-author of Gender in the Organisation: Women at Work in the 21st Century, feels that in the battle for board room gender equality, other diversity issues are not being addressed:

“Although this is welcome progress, why are Britain’s boardrooms so stubbornly white and male? Despite a growing consensus that companies with more diverse boards perform better or take more ethical decisions, the percentage of female or non-white executive directors in the UK’s biggest companies remains pitifully small.

“Not only does boardroom diversity reflect the real world and the diversity of clients and customers, healthy debate from different perspectives can lead to better decision-making. Innovative ideas often spring from disruption of the status quo. And examples set in the boardroom encourage a trickle-down effect within organisations.

“Lack of diversity hurts businesses and gives the wrong message to younger generations. Diversity brings different perspectives, greater innovation, and people tend to behave more ethically, rather than conforming to the social norms of the in-group. Diversity is not just good practice – it’s simply the right thing to do.

“Yet all-white executive teams run 69 per cent of FTSE 100 companies – that’s up from 65 per cent at the start of 2014, according to a study by Green Park Executive Recruitment, which found not a single person of Chinese or east Asian origin on the board of any of Britain’s biggest companies. According to the Office of National Statistics, 14 per cent of the UK population is non-white.”

Ann Pickering, O2 HR Director and female board member, commented that the result should not mean we become complacent:

“The news that Lord Davies’ target is finally in sight is to be welcomed. But, it’s crucial that British businesses view today’s report not just as an approach to a finishing line, but as a stepping stone to achieving that much bigger goal: true workplace diversity.

“While there has been some great progress made in the Boardrooms of the FTSE 100, the reality is that there are thousands of women who are yet to see this progress in their place of work. If we are to achieve sustainable and long-lasting change we can’t just look at those already at the top in the UK’s biggest businesses; instead we need to focus our efforts on women at every level, in every business. Only then will we be able to truly harness the skills, leadership potential and vision of the UK’s very best employees.”

O2 recently launched their own Women in Leadership campaign, surveying 2,000 women in management or senior management roles to find out their view on their opportunities for progression at work. The study showed:

  • One in five women believe it’s impossible for a woman to reach senior management role
  • Almost halfof working women (45%) believe there still aren’t enough women in senior positions in their company
  • Almost half (48%) believe all the decision-makers in their company are male
  • A third of women said they do dream of being the CEO (28%)or on the Board of a company (35%) but a third also say their career has failed to meet their expectations
  • Over a third of women said they lacked the confidence to ask for the promotion or pay rise
  • ‘Luck’ was the most popular response when asked what factor had most contributed to their success, with skills, ambition and drive hardly featuring at all

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