Words .....that work

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'Positive discrimination' for UK plc boardrooms

Posted on August 17, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Oh, to be a paid lobbyist. If you are merely an opinionated campaigner using social media - well, you just don't know who saw it on Twitter and who didn't - so if important- and urgent - you find the time and another way to say it.

If interested in the diversity/women in the boardroom debate, have a listen of the recent BBC programme 'Any Questions?'

Two people caught my attention - Ken Olisa, self-proclaimed 'diversity pioneer' (also mentioned here recently because he has come up with a very good idea for a governance index) and John Mills, the millionaire businessman. 

If you have clicked on the links, you will see that they are very different individuals and characters. They both agree that quotas are not the answer for more women in the UK's plc boardrooms. They also agree that it is beyond belief that we do not represent 50% of the population by gender in our boardrooms.

In Ken Olisa's case, it is impossible (even if you wanted to) to argue with him for positive discrimination - as a black man who stands out by being at the top of British business and having made his way through the US system, there is no riposte to his disarming statement  -  he would have hated to have got there by virtue of simply being 'black.' 

But. But But. I am not pro-quotas either.

If you go to about 28minutes into the discussion on 'Any Questions' you will hear John Mills say this : "Without some measures of positive discrimination....more women on boards won't happen (in the UK)." (my emphasis)

I was so very pleased to hear that. Now it's up to UK business - and the bold - to come up with ideas that could be called 'positive discrimination' or could be called 'righting the balance by necessary means' - depending on your perspective.

There were two developments I noticed in the last few days that are worth mentioning here. One -  Lord Rothschild has appointed his eldest daughter to the board of his £2bn investment firm RIT Capital Partners.

Oh no ! I thought as I dutifully retweeted, deliberately without comment. #women #diversity or #nepotism ? Difficult.

But looking at who his daughter is and her background, I say - good for him. It's one small step towards diversity and I am pretty sure RIT Capital will benefit from her vantage point and her perspective. And, as it is Lord Rotschild, and this country loves its titled, maybe it will set an example. 

Second development- a slightly silly story about Paddy Power placing odds on the likelihood of various women - journalists no less - being appointed to the Bank of England's MPC. This is all due to a man who has taken these shores by storm and been described in a serious newspaper as a 'modern male feminist' - Mark Carney. 

Yes - serious journalists and many others - lawyers, consultants, analytical thinkers in many professions are all potential contenders for the boardroom in a non-executive director position. It is vastly different from the role of an executive director. We are just overlooking and wasting a huge amount of talent.

For my money, 'positive discrimination' would mean merely an enforced widening of the candidate pool for our boardrooms.

That would define 'positive' in terms of the desired result, and not in terms of a 'leg-up' to anyone who did not merit it. Why is this so difficult to get across ?

Could it be that GB just secretly hates change ? Or (worse) is it a serious imagination/innovation deficit?

Categories: Women, Appointments, Representation