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Blog : BOARD TALK

The countdown begins

Posted on February 7, 2011 at 2:08 PM

The tension is palpable. Lord Davies of Abseroch is soon to report on what is to be done about increasing the number of women on the boards of listed companies in the UK. When it asked the former trade minister to undertake the review six months ago, the coalition government said it was "leading by example" Its aim was "to place women in at least half of all open board- level roles by the end of the Parliament."


More than 2,500 submissions have been received. There has been a brief sense of momentum. But the coalition government has also been seen to be embattled on a number of fronts. So the murmurs have been getting louder - Is it in a strong enough position to tell business what to do ? Can it be that the report will be a damp squib ? Isn't it likely that the bulk of the soundings taken have been from those who want to preserve the staus quo?


Never mind quotas - guaranteed to produce five different opinions among four different people -but can it  be that they do not even intend to set strong guidelines along the lines of 'comply or explain' ?


Or as one senior woman in business put it : "Will that be it then for the next 10 years?"


It's a fair question. The Davies Review was intended to build upon the work done by Laura Tyson, then Dean of London Business School in her report in 2003. That was eight whole years ago. I remember it well because I was Special Consultant to her for the duration.


When people feel left out of a process, they imagine the worst. And if they believe that- despite a handful of men in senior positions who are working hard to find ways to move forward on this matter- there is deep-seated prejudice to overcome, they prefer to stay quiet.


In a recent series of articles I did recently on women in the boardroom I was shocked at how concerned most women were about being quoted. "I may never get another NED position" seemed an extraordinary over-reaction to a sensible quote for a well-respected platform.


Not everyone will put their name to a letter to Lord Davies entreating him to come up with something tangible this time. But, increasingly concerned ahead of the report's publication, 88 senior business figures did just that earlier this month, eight of whom were male.


Cranfield's figure of 2,551 credible female candidates for potential board positions is a compelling one. Mentoring programmes and real targets make good investment sense. The 'spec' on board positions must originate from a company's board, which is then held responsible for it, surely.


But perhaps, as the report looms - February 24th as I understand it - we have the slightly amusing prospect of the EU riding to the rescue.  Viviane Reading, the EU Justice Commssioner, supported by Michel Barnier, the commissioner for the internal market, is making loud noises about requiring companies to employ 30% women in their boardrooms by 2015, rising to 40% by 2020.


The UK would need an extra 200 female directors in the FTSE 100. For all those allergic to 'just getting the numbers up' , the prospect of pressure from Brussels may inspire more lateral thinking. To get the mezzanine layer on boards you have to drop the 'has to have been on a plc board' stipulation. In the end, it is all about 'growing people' and therefore better companies. Women would also benefit.









Categories: Women, Governance, Quotas