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Women In Boardrooms And Real Change

Posted on March 6, 2012 at 10:10 PM

In case anyone was wondering at a quiet blog, I've been busy. I've also been thinking - it takes time.

So the fun and games begin - Viviane Reding, the EU's justice commissioner, has had enough - a year after she threatened to impose quotas if Europe's plcs did not bring more women into the boardroom. The EU now launches a consultation......and the heat in the kitchen of UK plc just went up a notch.

What I want to say to UK chairmen is this:  'C'mon guys - really ? Do you want to be publicly bullied and cajoled and ultimately made to do something (against your will) that you should take the time to find out makes good business sense ? Surely you don't have to have even an MBA to realise it isn't about the boardroom, it's about the pipeline. You need to look at the structure of the company- make a grid (as one clever plc i know well does), chart people, see who moves where, see where they come from, see who they are - and that includes whether they are men or women - and then give them a plan, develop them, engage them, sponsor the ones who won't get ahead otherwise because they may need to see ambition (with family in tow) in a new light ie 'Possible' and BUILD (now there's a positive word) that pipeline.

The world is changing very fast and so are the markets for UK plcs. All the energy, the ideas, the strategic thoughts blah blah will come from an increasingly diverse workforce - including gender.

But Nudge Theory ain't working fast in London, that's for sure. We have a lot of clever senior business people in the UK - who make an excellent argument for change without quotas.

I have also met more than my fill of people whom I would call part of the 'bandwagon' of boardroom diversity. Sadly, they include big names - and usually do what they do at least in part because it involves 'big bucks' as well. 

It's always useful to look to examples of how they do it in other countries. But you know what, I think it is very important to do what works for your specific country - in this case, the UK. So we need culture-specific nudge theory.

In the US, Catalyst , a non-profit organisation, has been working hard to put women in boardrooms for a long time. Well, it may be 'non-profit' but it definitely has a bandwagon with QUOTA as its slogan up front - and, coincidentally, it  has big plans for the 'fast growing countries like India and Brazil' and women in their boardrooms.

I happen to know that in India, there is a turf war going on between the home-grown Ms Poonam Barua and her WILL initiative mentoring women in business ( which has also involved using western plcs based in India as examples/mentors for change) and Catalyst's growing business there ( involving the formation of close relationships with Indian plcs to provide US-stamped legitimacy).

I can't say I like either very much, but if I had to choose I would choose the local option. And in the meantime, don't assume either Ms Barua (of the WILL Forum) or Ms Lang (President of Catalyst) is doing it out of altruism.

But I digress. Women and the UK's boardrooms - more change please, from the inside of plcs at all levels and in ways that respect - and measure - the contribution of every individual, both real - and potential. Let's make HR departments (like headhunters) work a lot harder. 

Categories: Women, Appointments, Measurement