Thanks to the Davies report, gender diversity is well documented. It added heat to the issue, but it wasn’t the catalyst. Leading businesses accept increased female board representation improves performance. The debate now is how to integrate improving diversity into corporate strategy.
Robert Ritchie, head of human resources at Gazprom Energy, says: “Businesses need strong, cohesive senior leadership teams who respect each other’s views, create clear strategies and communicate, communicate, communicate – women can do that!”
The point is that businesses benefit from a dynamic mix of skills, behaviours and experiences. Women bring different attributes to men. Together they create the behaviours of a successful board.
Men and women use humour, metaphor and language differently. Women tend to use collaborative language such as “perhaps we could…” to create inclusion. Similarly, personality types differ between the sexes. Some 78 per cent of men are “thinking” types and a similar proportion of women are “feeling” types, meaning women consider the human consequences of their decisions more than most men.
More than 70 per cent of women want to be assessed on merit, according to Armstrong Craven research
Socialised environment is important too. Employers are now creating programmes to nurture and motivate females through mentoring, coaching and role models with non-conventional career paths.
“We must unlock the potential of high-performing women,” says Michelle Fullerton, head of diversity and inclusion, Europe and emerging markets (excluding Asia) for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Our sponsorship programme does just that matching senior women with sponsors who help them progress their career and advocate for them.”
Mary FitzPatrick, diversity leader at GE Capital for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, points out: “Having a great reputation as an employer that values women is really important to us.” Women, just as much as men, are driven by career challenge; it’s just that many need flexible working patterns and the potential for businesses to finally accept senior roles can be done part-time.
The issue isn’t about equality, quotas or sanctions – any action not based on meritocracy won’t deliver the benefits businesses need. Women agree. More than 70 per cent want to be assessed on merit, according to Armstrong Craven research. It’s work in progress; changing policies and procedures takes time, but it will create a better female pipeline and business performance.
No quotas but 25% targets set pace
Lord Davies’ report, Women on Boards, published in February 2011, provoked fresh debate about the wisdom of quotas to ensure women get a higher percentage of top jobs. At the time, female representation on FTSE 100 boards was 12.5 per cent and 7.8 per cent for the FTSE 250. A greater challenge existed in executive management, with female representation in executive positions on FTSE 100 boards at just 2 per cent.
Despite these statistics, it was decided not to impose a quota system due to fears of encouraging a culture of tokenism. Instead, Lord Davies placed the onus for change firmly on the business world, intending that FTSE companies would be supported by investors and the recruitment industry to achieve their aims.
The headline target of 25 per cent was set for female representation on FTSE 100 boards by 2015, with a proviso that the government should reserve the right to introduce more prescriptive measures if the required change does not occur.