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Blog : BOARD TALK

Women On Boards: Time For A Reality Check

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 7:30 AM

The good news: the UK is now fifth in the world when it comes to the number of women in non-executive director positions in plc boardrooms. Women hold 23.5% of FTSE 100 non-executive director (NED) positions, and the target of 25% by end 2015 - set by Lord Davies in his review for the UK government four years ago - is within sight. 


But before the champagne corks start popping, it is worth looking at the whole picture.


The 2015 Female FTSE Report is an excellent document. Its authors have become braver over the past four years about making all the nuances of this debate around the absence of women in the UK's boardrooms clear, instead of just joining the bandwagon.


Counting each appointment and chivvying business along with regular rankings praising the companies with more women has worked - but only upto a point. If you really want to measure 'culture change' you look at the departures as well as the arrivals of women in the boardroom, including executive positions.The percentage of women holding executive positions in the FTSE 250 has actually fallen  - to a paltry 4.6%.


It would also make sense to look hard at the tenure and record of the men. How many male non-executive directors have served over nine years in the FTSE 100 ? How many are chairmen - with established networks and loyal headhunters (who often also do their board evaluations) in tow?


Cranfield tells us (page 30 of the report); there are still 70 male NEDs - and nine female ones - who have served over nine years. Of those 70 male NEDS 21 are Chairmen.


As Susan Vinnicombe says: "It has taken many years for the debate on women on boards to be taken seriously." 


Ultimately, there are a limited number of positions at the strategic top of business. For new blood, and diversity - including gender diversity - someone has to leave.


The ideas put forward by Cranfield seem an excellent place to begin, for the FTSE 100: enlarge board size by simply adding one woman to each board - and limit the tenure of directors.


As for the FTSE 250, the state of play on diversity there shows that the talk ofhttps://www.gov.uk/government/news/women-on-boards-numbers-almost-doubled-in-last-4-years" target="_blank"> "the change in culture that is taking place at the heart of British business" may be a bit premature.


Egon Zehnder, the global executive search firm, has consistently provided some of the best coverage of the trends around the boardroom (which is doubtless why Cranfield has used them in its report). It is also committed to raising the number of women in the UK's boardrooms, which it is publicising with a #25by25 Twitter conversation.


At an unusual event in London this week with leaders and their daughters to inspire the next generation of women leaders Liv Garfield, the youngest of five women CEOs in the FTSE 100, urged young women to "find a supportive boss - or move jobs."


Now would she have given such advice if we were seeing major culture change? We keep telling the women what to do to get ahead - perhaps we also need to suggest that some of the men move on.



 





Categories: Women, Measurement, Behaviour