Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Aiming a stiletto heel at the 'glass ceiling'

News Lord Davies will be recommending to David Cameron's government that the boards of a quarter of FTSE 350 companies should be made up of women by 2015 may sound like the former trade minister is setting a low bar but the reality is he's being extremely optimistic.

At present, women board members make up only 12.5% of FTSE 100 companies and although we don't have any concrete figures for Northern Ireland, a quick glance at a list of top 100 companies suggests women CEOs account for just 2% at best.

To say we're falling behind when it comes to gender equality in the boardroom isn't over egging the pudding. Yes, there are a number of reasons why we'll never reach equilibrium but surely there's room for a little more balance?

Lord Davies, whose report was commissioned by the government, has set out a list of ways in which this can be achieved. They include head hunters and shareholders signing up to a code of conduct, chairmen being urged to be "more adventurous" when appointing non-executive directors and agencies providing "more diverse" shortlists (thankfully he stops short of recommending an implementation of quotas, something which had been an option when he was surveying opinion).

While these recommendations are well meaning, you can't help thinking that what's really needed is a change of attitude. How that's achieved is a difficult question to answer but if companies are forced to change their ways it probably won't help alter the pervading culture in the long term.

Lord Davies may not have come up with the answers but at least he's highlighting the imbalance.

Northern Ireland's economy has had to do a lot of catching up with the rest of the world over the last few years but we've come an awfully long way in a short space of time.

We may not meet the FTSE 350 targets but perhaps the next few years will see the gender imbalance redressed and a proper mix in the boardroom.

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