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It Is Really All About The Nitty Gritty (Equality & Attitudes)

Posted on March 27, 2012 at 8:20 PM

I wondered how long it would take before the issue of women being appointed as non-executive directors on the boards of plcs moved beyond the UK government's comfort zone. I think it might be about to happen.

I'm all for increasing representation in the boardroom (and not keen on quotas) - and that was why this blog was born. But I now find the issues around it are a lot more entrenched.

For now, I just want to throw out some info- and some thoughts. A study just out by Centre Forum, the UK's liberal independent think tank, says that the system for appointing top judges - particularly to the Supreme Court - is "not fit for purpose" and needs significant reform.

Centre Forum has a prominent quote from UK Prime Minister David Cameron on its website, saying he applauds their work, so I hope he has read it. 'Guarding the guardians: towards an independent, accountable and diverse senior judiciary" makes a lot of sense. 

We are back to 'pale, male and stale' - with a vengeance. Out of 54 of the most senior positions in Britain's judiciary, only five are held by women. The Supreme Court is made up of 11 white men and one white woman - Lady Hale. According to a piece in today's Financial Times, she recently told the Lords constitution committee that: "A woman litigant should be able to go into a court and see more than one person who shares at least some of her experience. I should not stick out like  a bad tooth, as I do at present."

Centre Forum quotes the Chief Justice of Canada: "Psychologists tell us that human beings have a tendency to see merit only in those who exhibit the same qualities that they possess".

And the report's co-author, Chris Paterson says:

"A strong senior judiciary is essential to the protection of individual rights, but it must be supported by an appropriate appointments system. Diversity, as a basic component of the Supreme Court’s ability to deliver justice in modern society, must be integral to this." Ah, an "appropriate appointments system." Back we go to the role of headhunters.....

Separately - and you may see this as a leap too far but I don't - we are about to see the launch of the Women's Equality Network,  a website whose purpose is to provide a safe forum where women facing discrimination at work or who have lost their jobs can share their experiences and offer support to each other. 


Its founder is Camilla Parker, who represented Miriam O'Reilly last year when she sued the BBC for age discrimination and won. An involved woman says : "Camilla has often put clients in touch with each other because many have said how isolating and stressful it is coping with the situation at work and a legal case. We felt that there was a ‘gap’ with regards to support for women facing discrimination, and the law firm Leigh Day agreed to sponsor the creation of an online support network."

And she adds:

"It's not specific to financial services, but we certainly hope women in investment banking will find it helpful. And if we help to expose some of the discriminatory practices going on every day in the investment banks, then it will serve its purpose."

Oops. The government - and chairmen of UK plcs - are worried about the EU and the threat of regulation on gender diversity and quotas. And then there's the persistent bad smell around the financial services sector. 

I would say it's time to think a bit more proactively about women in the workplace, and not just about ringing in the numbers in NED positions on boards, and congratulating ourselves on the improvement there. More from me on this here - and you know where else - soon.





Categories: Women, Appointments, Measurement