The female board room quota: Do we need one?

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 - The female board room quota: Do we need one?

The female board room quota: Do we need one? 

Sofeminine writer Abby Driver on why she thinks female quotas would be a positive move...


Years of gentle encouragement and half-baked government schemes have barely made a dent in the gender inequality of UK boardrooms. The result is a depressing ratio of 3:17 in UK boardrooms, that’s women to men, naturally. If our government are as serious as they say they are about equality, then they need to get serious about sorting it out. The problem is, they aren’t.  
 
The Low Down

The EU wants to legislate gender inequality by introducing quotas to get more women into boardrooms.

Loads of the main EU players are game, most have already passed similar measures, but the UK is having a hissy fit at the mere suggestion of it.

The UK wants to make measures voluntary, but at the current rate of change that means we won’t see equal gender boardroom for another - wait for it - 70 years!

But instead of realising that’s a bit naff, David Cameron has rounded up an 8-strong-gang of smaller states such as Latvia and Malta who want to block the proposal, despite earlier admitting that there aren’t enough women on boards.
 
Why let women in the board room?

It’s a good point, no? I mean it’s no good letting us in if all we’re gonna do is paint our nails and discuss our favourite One Direction guy.
 
As it goes, females – shock horror – can be pretty business savvy too, and according to a government review companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity. 
 
The same review also stated: “Research has shown that strong stock market growth among European companies is most likely to occur where there is a higher proportion of women in senior management teams.” 
 
BOOM. 
 
Case in point

Jump back to 2003, to a time before YouTube and iPhones, and a bunch of innovative Norwegians decided it was high time gender inequality at boardroom level was sorted out, good ‘n proper. 
 
Their first plan of attack to get more women on boards was to introduce voluntary quotas. But companies campaigned against it saying that investors would flee, the stock market would crumble leaving the country in ruin all because of a few extra women in the boardroom. That attitude coupled with an entirely voluntary scheme meant: no change. 
 
So the government amped things up, made quotas for listed companies mandatory and low and behold women went from making up 6% of board members in 2002 to 44% today. And guess what? Norway is doing just fine, thank you very much.
 
Mandatory vs. voluntary quotas 

Personally, I don’t see the point of voluntary quotas. It didn’t work in Norway and considering public opinion in the UK is similar to Norway’s pre-2003, I don’t see how the results would be any different here. 
 
Viviane Reding, the EU Justice Commissioner behind the proposal said: "Self-regulation so far has not brought about satisfactory results". And whilst she’s admitted she dislikes quotas, said: “I like what they do.” And I’m with her on that one.
 
I wish we lived in a country where women were taken seriously and treated equally to men in the world of business, but the statistics say otherwise.
 
So for the meantime I am all for getting companies to favour women over men, providing they are as equally well qualified for the role and only until we’re on a level playing field. Yeah, we might get there eventually without quotas, but it'd be nice to be alive to see it.
If things work out anything like Norway, it’ll help erode misogynist business culture and improve business simultaneously.

Two birds, one stone and all that. 
 
Not what women want?

The Daily Telegraph recently published an article that stated: “A new survey of female workers in the UK shows the majority do not aspire to reach anywhere near senior management level anyway.”

The entirely "representative" survey, it should be pointed out, was of just over 500 women. Well I guess that’s conclusive then, women should have never left the kitchen after all! Maybe I’m just being a sourpuss, but I need more conclusive evidence to believe that women don’t really want to reach the top echelons of business.
 
A more likely explanation is that it seems out of reach; totally understandable when currently only 15% of board members in the UK are women. This, coupled with extortionate childcare costs and society’s schizophrenic attitude when it comes to having babies (you're uncaring if you're a working mother or lazy if you're not), makes the whole thing seem like mission impossible to many women. 
 
The Future

Since Norway’s success France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy have all passed gender quotas. But stuffy old Great Britain is lagging behind, welded to its outdated, tired opinions. It seems our nation is too narrow minded to possibly consider that maybe, for once, the EU could be onto something useful!
 
The European Commission will decide whether to back mandatory 40% female quota on company boards on November 14th. Fingers crossed! 



Do you think having a female board room quota is a good idea?
Yes - it's a great way to force progress.
No - it's ill thought through.
Not sure.

  

Abby Driver
24/10/2012
Reader ranking:5/5 
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