Belfast Telegraph

Time to take care of business and introduce quotas

The time has come for the blokes - and it is nearly always men - who run business in this country to change the way they operate. Every single day these men endorse discrimination on a massive scale. Change in boardrooms isn't happening at a snail's pace, but a glacial one.

Half the population, half the workforce and half of all customers are routinely passed over in the boardroom - and still our allegedly 'female-friendly' Government recoils from quotas.

The evidence is stark. More women than men are successful graduates. In their 20s, women earn more than men.

But as they take time out to raise a family, the situation is reversed and they find it difficult to regain career momentum. From their mid-30s, women earn less than their male counterparts. Half of all high-flying women never reach senior management posts. What a waste of all that education, all that training, all that life experience.

Last August, Lord Davies was asked by Business Secretary Vince Cable and Equalities Minister Theresa May to investigate why women weren't better represented on the boards of FTSE companies.

Sadly, Davies has produced a report as effective as a wet tea towel. In spite of the fact that half of all directorships are filled through personal friendships, and only 4% of appointees attend a formal interview, he's not recommending strict rules to ensure boardrooms are made up of well-qualified men and women, rather than pals of the incumbents.

Instead, he has opted for self-regulation, asking the FTSE 350 to increase the number of women on their boards to 25% by 2015 and to make their recruitment methods more transparent. If business fails to deliver, only then does he threaten to impose quotas.

To ensure change, he wants shareholders to monitor new appointments. That means putting our trust in the same bunch of ineffectual investors who failed to stop chief executives and senior management awarding themselves massive bonuses.

Talented women don't like quotas because it implies we need special treatment. Women aren't second-class citizens who need a helping hand to ensure they make progress up the ladder of life.

Then we encounter a concrete ceiling - only five FTSE-100 companies have female chief executives and three are Americans who already held boardroom jobs outside the UK. At the current rate, it will take 73 years for women to achieve parity in the boardroom, so quotas, not persuasion, are the only option.

Davies discovered that only 11% of businesses favour quotas.

More importantly, a McKinsey report found that businesses with large numbers of women on their boards outperformed their rivals, achieving 42% more sales and 53% higher return on equity. It's a no-brainer.

To achieve Davies's targets, a third of all new appointments will have to go to women.

You don't need to be an astrologer to understand that ain't gonna happen.

When you realise that 18 of the FTSE-100 companies have no women on their boards, in common with more than half of the FTSE 250, the scale of the problem is laid bare. It's no time for pussyfooting and threats - even Nicola Horlick, superwoman and high-flyer, now reluctantly favours quotas.

Forget waiting for businessmen to change horribly ingrained ways of thinking. They need a giant kick up the backside.


From Belfast Telegraph