On International Women’s Day 2015 ( #IWD2015) the ‘to-do’ list seems absolutely endless. But, in terms of publicly listed businesses and better corporate governance, it really should not be that hard. Is it possible that it is harder simply because it is about sharing power at the top?
In the UK, with a general election less than 10 weeks away, journalists’ ‘in-boxes’ are full of emails with embargoed press releases containing a mix of aspirational platitudes and real numbers about women’s progress. But the Financial Times tonight has blown it all apart with its headline: ‘UK poised to miss target for women board members’.
FT research suggests that, at the start of March, women accounted for 23.5% board membership at the UK’s largest listed groups. In 2011, a report by Lord Davies of Abersoch for the government on the under-representation of women in the UK’s boardrooms set a target of at least a quarter of FTSE board membership being female by 2015.
“Theoretically, it would take the appointment of an additional 22 female directors or the replacement of 17 male directors with women for the FTSE 100 to reach the 25% target” says the FT. It adds: “The total number of female board members is only 32 higher than at this time last year.”
The paper also quotes research from index provider MSCI, which looked at more than 6.500 company boards globally. It found that “public companies with more women on their boards are less likely to be hit by governance scandals such as bribery, fraud or shareholder battles.”
So what, exactly is going on? Has the UK commitment to women on boards been more an ‘anti-EU’ (which threatens quotas to achieve gender diversity) publicity stunt than a business-driven corporate agenda to improve corporate governance?
There has been an awful lot of government ‘carrot and stick‘ to get business to comply with gender diversity. All-male boards were named and shamed by the government, until there were none left. It has taken more than three years for all concerned to even acknowledge that the lack of women in the boardroom may be less a ‘supply’ than a ‘demand’ problem.
While much has been said and written on the subject of ‘diversity’ as a self-evident beneficial business rule, an enormous amount of time has been spent in discussion of a seemingly intractable problem: where does one find these people?
Well-known boardroom headhunters have stood on public podiums in London and confessed that they have no clue about how to find the “appropriate digital skills” needed for the businesses of today.
Yet, apart from a ‘voluntary code’ for headhunters instigated by Lord Davies which took six months to extract from the industry and did not amount to much, recruitment practices for the boardroom have not changed radically.
FTSE 100 chairmen – including Lord Davies when I last asked him in public – strongly oppose the idea of advertising boardroom vacancies. They say it would be “too much” for the company concerned to handle, in terms of process.
Meanwhile, Germany has just passed legislation requiring large companies to allocate 30% of seats on non-executive boards to women.
These new quotas come into force from 2016 and will affect more than 100 listed companies with employee representation on their supervisory boards. Last week the German Handelsblatt newspaper published a survey saying 59% of mid-size companies in Germany did not have a woman in a leadership position, compared with an uninspiring EU average of 36%.
Those of us who write about corporate governance like to think it’s an important motivating factor in corporate leadership and when it comes to appointments to the boardroom. But those of us who are women, also suspect strongly that in the end, it’s about sharing the power and its perks.
This article was written by Dina Medland from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.