Quotas the “only way to increase number of women in boardrooms” say women’s business networks

From the collection at Aletta, Institute for Women's History
Compulsory quotas for women in the boardroom are a key way forward, according to a new poll of influential women’s business networks, carried out by leadership consultancy, White Water Group. 

The research presents a sobering view from the ground a year after the government-commissioned Davies report concluded that companies needed to achieve 25 per cent of women on UK boards by 2015 or face compulsory government measures. The poll asked leaders of 30 corporate women’s networks, representing well over 10,000 women at some of Britain’s top firms, what had changed since the Davies report was released in February last year revealed that: Two thirds had seen no change in the opportunities for women in their companies, with 80 per cent of those surveyed saying that they think that it will take up to 20 years to reach 30 per cent of women in the executive suite with a further 20 per cent thinking it will take even longer.

However 67 per cent believed that the introduction of quotas will be needed to achieve the target of 25 per cent of women in senior positions by 2015.

The UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants to “accelerate” the increase in women on the board of top UK firms, preferably without resorting to quotas. This survey suggests that women in management don’t believe that self-regulation will be enough.

Averil Leimon, co-founder of White Water Group, said: “Statistically the proportion of female directors at FTSE 100 companies rose from 12.5 per cent in 2010 to 15 per cent in 2011, but the women we spoke to don’t feel that change is going fast enough or far enough. Quotas may be a blunt instrument but they may be inevitable.

“We don’t believe, however, that compulsion will be enough to create change and reap the benefits of a more diverse management team. Our survey revealed that many women want more visible involvement from men, who will support the clear business case for more women in senior posts. This means mentoring women, investing in coaching and encouraging more female role models, as well as improving fairness in work practices.”

“Getting this right is not just about careers for women; it’s essential for the economy as a whole. We’ve shown that businesses with equal numbers of men and women at the senior management level are more profitable than businesses with predominantly male leaders. What’s more, demographic shifts mean that by 2030 the UK will be short of 1.3m people of leadership age. More women in senior management would address both these issues.” 

In the Netherlands, only 46.5 per cent of AEX companies has at least one woman on the Executive or Supervisory Board, according to the Dutch Female Board Index 2011. Of these, 36% do not have the Dutch nationality. Prof.dr. Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers, author of the Dutch Female Board Index, believes that if reappointment was no longer automatic after 4 years, 98 per cent of listed companies could have at least one woman on its Supervisory Board by 2016. Only 68 per cent of Boards of Directors could potentially have a place for a woman, because one hundred directors have been appointed for an indefinite period. 

In the Netherlands, where parliament has declared that by 2016 30% of board members must be women (no sanctions for failure to meet the deadline) a number of initiatives have been taken to promote women in boards. The LinkedIn group vrouwelijke commissarissen en toezichthouders
is collecting an overview of offerings. Most offerings are not specifically for women. Two are:
  • The Vrouw en Toezicht-dag (Governance University and FZ Female Leaders and E&Y) June 5th. See the flyer.
  • De Beuk organises workshops on women and leadership.

You can follow the White Water Women on @whtewaterwomen 
You can follow Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers on @mluckerath 
While you are at it, follow NETSHEILA on @LinMcDevittPugh

The UK material in this article is drawn from a March 2012 edition of Business Matters.

Lin McDevitt-Pugh

Lin McDevitt-Pugh MBA is a management consultant with gender expertise, project developer and manager in the public sector, private sector and civil society, based in the Netherlands. With a background in human rights and networking, she works with organizations to move the conversation from “This is not how it should be” to “This is how it will be”. Lin gets very excited when she trains organizations in working with people as creative economic resources.  By mobilizing the resources we all have at our fingertips - the people we know and the people they know - we can create unique knowledge, build trust and access the people and institutions we need to access.
Read more about Lin McDevitt-Pugh and workshops.
Read more fromNETSHEILA on women in boards in the Netherlands.
Contact: mcdevitt-pugh@netsheila.com

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