All a-board

Autonomy and quality line-management are critical getting more women on boards

By Michelle Perry | Published 13:06, 11 December 13

The one finding that resonated with me in the latest research into achieving a greater gender balance on the boards of UK plc was the importance in the quality of line-management and the need for autonomy.

Indeed I don’t think this only resonated with me. There were many murmurings at the launch yesterday when this finding was mentioned. And a lady (who will remain nameless) sitting next to me, who works for one of the big professional services firms, said it was a point she had noticed at her firm and would be looking into in greater depth.

Perhaps it’d be worth more companies tracking the bosses of successful women who have made it on to the boards of UK plc to see if there are any similarities in management.

This is however only one facet of the initial research – ‘Cracking the Code’ by the 30% Club, KPMG and business psychologist YSC – that could improve the gender balance on boards. And I’m not suggesting companies start attributing failure solely to a women’s boss. We’ve all had bad bosses and I’m sure few would argue that weak leadership held them back in the long term.

The thing that irritated me most at yesterday’s event was that, despite 13 of the FTSE 100 having already achieved the ultimate goal of 30 percent female representative at executive level, none could be named. Nor could YSC specify any similarities between these companies that put them ahead of the game, apart from the bland label that they were “enlightened organisations”.

Surely if you’d reached the 30 percent goal – one higher than that set by the government’s target of 25 percent female board representation by 2015 – you’d want to shout about it and spread your practices so that others could follow. Isn’t that the whole purpose of this research to “enlighten” boards as to how to attract more women?

Diageo must be one of those organisations to follow. Not only is the drinks giant’s CFO a woman – Deirdre Mahlan – but three other female non-executives sit on its board of directors, and it boasts four women on its executive committee.

It’s also worth noting that Lord Davies – he who wrote the original damning report into the embarrassing lack of women on the boards of UK plc – is a senior non-executive and chairman of Diageo’s remuneration committee. There’s no way that Lord Davies would sit on the board of a company that was lagging on female board representation.

Despite progress, it’s important to note that the current goals are set for non-executive posts, and not executive ones. It’s a point that Lloyds Banking group chairman Sir Wyn Bischoff, who is a fervent supporter of the initiative, made in addressing the predominately female audience at yesterday’s launch.

Bischoff said that given that UK boards are following the trend of US boards in having fewer board members, “we need to focus on the executive as well as the non-executive level”.

Sir Wyn went on to lay down the gauntlet for the UK’s top companies: “How about committing to 30 percent representation at the executive level in four years from now?”

I look forward to 2017 with bated breath.

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