New Dutch Law Needs Women's Networks

Yesterday's newspaper (1 June 2011) brought us the welcome news that the Dutch Parliament passed a new law that is designed to increase the number of women on corporate boards.  The law is also intended as a tool to increasing the diversity in corporate boards. By 2016 at least 30% of top positions must be filled by women. At the moment women account for only 8% of top positions. The law is formulated as" implement or explain". If a company is unable to get a balanced board, it has to explain why in its annual report. Stakeholders and shareholders can decide for themselves whether the arguments are good enough. The bill was promoted by the Talent to the Top foundation.

The law is intended for companies with more than 250 employees. The 30 percent applies to both boards and the supervisory board.

Mijntje L├╝ckerath-Rovers, professor in corporate governance at Nyenrode business school, says it will be possible to reach the 30percent figure by 2016. It means that for the coming four years, one in every 2 appointments must be a woman. After this, it will be enough to have one in every three appointments go to a woman. The number of female supervisors will jump from the present 52 to 176.

Here's the thing. Who will find these women? At this level, most people bring in people they know to join them on boards. The top of a bank can have the same people as the top of an energy company, because people on the board bring in people they know. In one corporation in the Netherlands, the women's network discovered that all appointments to management grade 14 and above were not advertised. People find people they think are suitable. They usually fish in a pond of people who got there the same way. Bottom line: its men appointing men.

I am preparing a workshop for women in corporations, to be held on July 1st this year. I have a great panel of leading women, and when I spoke yesterday with the moderator, herself a leading business woman, I asked if she knew the other women. She didn't. They also do not know her.  To prepare my workshop I brought 20 women from Dutch corporations together and we talked about what is going on at the work place. Sitting around a meal table and creating an environment of trust made it possible for women to talk with each other about issues they didn't talk about at work. They met women from other companies, and possibly the next action item we will take is to go on a boat cruise together.

Claudia Woody, one of the top executives at IBM, says that women put their nose to the grindstone at work while men find each other at the water fountain and talk football. Men connect.

In the Netherlands, we have to do more than work hard to find a woman every time we need a new appointee to a Board.  We will need to find ways of creating networks of women, networks that are about connecting, sharing knowledge and tipping each other every time a possibility comes along.

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