Blog : BOARD TALK
|Posted on May 10, 2014 at 3:45 PM|
Since I first launched this blog in February 2011 (around the time that Lord Davies launched his review on the under-representation of women in the UK's boardrooms) I like to think it has championed the need for true diversity in the UK's boardrooms for better corporate governance and better business.
Before the Davies Review - In late 2010 - I spoke to many women for a series of features for the FT Non-Executive Director Club website. These were aspirant non-executive directors, or women with one NED position. I was struck - and alarmed - by how reluctant they were to speak 'on the record.' Only Vanda Murray - who has since kindly endorsed this blog not once but twice over the years - was willing to be quoted without having her quotes run past her first: something to which I do not normally agree.
I realised the women were afraid that if they came across as overly critical, they may jeopardise future careers in the boardroom. Given that the quotes were often fairly anodyne, and they were going to appear on a 'members-only' website, not in the printed FT and FT.com, it seemed completely absurd. It was a major reason for the launch of 'Board Talk.'
From 2011 onwards as I interviewed one senior woman after another for career profiles for the Financial Times (to be found on this website) I heard a constant echo: they often struggled to get on the radar of headhunters if they were not already in range - in short, they were 'invisible' when it came to non-executive director (NED) boardroom appointments.
Once they had one position though, there was often another one on offer quite soon. Visibility, it seems, is a bit like Botticelli's The Birth of Venus - fully resplendent once she arrives.
By March 2014, the UK Government was quite pleased with the progress made on women in the boardroom. The debate had shifted to the executive pipeline and wider societal issues around working environments, unconscious bias, provision of childcare and more. The link above is to a BIS press release on women on boards 2014: three years on.
As it says, the release comes under Policy: Creating A Fairer And More Equal Society. Only I am not sure how much we have suceeded in doing that in the last four years , particularly if you look at the much vaunted practice of 'toning from the top.'
Britain is a multi-cultural society, but our plc boardrooms are overwhelmingly white, and overwhelmingly male.
A report by The Policy Exchange, a centre-right thinktank recently found that people from ethnic minority backgrounds could potentially double in numbers to up to 30% of Britain’s population by 2050. It has produced a 'handbook' to help politicians understand the differences affecting individual communities.
It seems quite extraordinary that this has all come as a bit of a surprise - and that politicans might need such a 'handbook.' Because many ethnic minorities have been here for awhile, and they are reflected in different levels of business as well as among the ranks of the unemployed. It is just that, for a multiplicity of reasons, at all levels of business they often remain invisible.
One big reason for lack of visibility is diminishing space in mainstream media platforms. Appearing in niche publications is not the same as being featured in the national papers - but to get there you already need to have 'arrived.' It is a vicious circle.
I interviewed Indian-born Vin Murria for the Financial Times in 2012. Although she was CEO of Advanced Computer Software, I would not have come across her if she had not won the 'Woman of the year' at the Everywoman in Technology awards. She is now one of two women NEDs at Chime Comunications plc - whose chairman, Lord Davies, urgently needed to diversify that board. He told me about the appointment the day it was announced in person, when I interviewed him late last year.
So this website has a new page ( which will shortly look more professional than it currently does). It is called TalkToMe/interviews.
I won't repeat the explanation at the top of that page but essentially it aims to rectify the current media balance and showcase more women than men, with a strong focus on ethnic minorities. I want to interview those as the top, and those in the mezzanine layer - and make them more visible.
Many thanks to both Sir Mark Moody-Stuart and to Karen Blackett, CEO MediacomUK, for their interviews. In their own way and together, they are champions of the need for real diversity of thought in business and the boardroom.
And my thinking cap is firmly on for ways to fund this venture. If you think you can help, please get in touch.
Thank you for reading.