Only 40% of the New Women Commissioners in Dutch Listed Companies are Dutch

8 September 2012. An article in the Financial Daily (Financiële Dagblad) and other media this weekend quotes the most recent findings of the Dutch Female Board Index: in 2012 one in four of the newly appointed Supervisors- the top management layer in a company - is female. In 2011 only 14.3% of the new appointees were women. Two months ago in this blog, you read that the talent pipeline that should lead to more women in top positions in major Dutch companies is too limited. There are not enough women in the sub-top to be promoted to the top, according to new research by Dutch daily newspaper the Volkskrant.

In 2016 companies by law must have at least 30% women in their top management and supervisory or executive boards. In 2011 the numbers did not increase from the 20% of women at the top in the preceding year. EU commissioner Viviane Reding published this week a concept proposal that will demand that by 2020, 40% of all executive boards of large companies be women. Contrary to the Dutch, who only require companies to publish the percentages and are not sanctioned in any way if they do not meet the 30% mark, Reding is considering several kinds of sanctions, including fines or exclusion from government contracts.

At present, 13.3% of all Supervisors in the 472 companies listed on the Dutch stock exchange are women. Half of these companies have no women on their executive boards.

In July we quoted findings from the Volkskrant that in all, 7592 women work in management positions in the 35 companies in the Volkskrant research. Many work in an international post and are not Dutch nationals. Prof. dr Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers (Nijenrode University) runs the Female Board Index and suggests that the reason more women are being invited onto executive boards has to do with recent changes in how companies see the role of the boards. No longer is 'board experience' a primary motivator - this was what kept the old boys network standing - but specific knowledge is now more valued. Women are expert in 'doing it right' and having specific knowledge.

In my conversations with leading women, and listening to powerful speakers like Claudia Woody of IBM, there is no reason why more Dutch women cannot take their place on the boards of listed companies in the Netherlands. There is no reason why women cannot powerfully claim a career. There is no reason to conform to the very strong ethos in the Netherlands that women should work hard, be nice, and hope that others notice their value. Women do work well. In the conversations women bring up their observation that they are better at keeping to budget than men, they are better at keeping projects within the time limits. And as Claudia Woody says, they are better at sitting behind their computers while men stand at the water fountain and talk with their colleagues about their ideas and ambitions.

Women do not have to change a single thing about themselves. The architecture of the company does however need to change. Value must be put on specific and grounded knowledge. This is the next frontier for women to challenge and succeed at. That, and women being able to find each other, to propose good women when a supervisory position becomes available.

There are a number of organizations and individuals doing very good work to create the change that needs to happen.

One is L-Women at Work. They organize an annual conference about advancing the careers of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women across Europe. They are developing the business case for L-Women in the business environment and, looking at the female commissioners in the Netherlands, lesbians are well represented.  The next conference is in Amsterdam on 9 November 2012.

Hanske Plenge manages a Linked In group entitled vrouwelijke commissarissen en toezichthouders and offers coaching and meetings for women wanting to enter this field. Her workshop "Meer Kijk op Toezicht" (Getting a Good Grip on Supervision) regularly sells out - and she offers them a number of times a year.

De Beuk, organization advisers, offer training for women under their Leading Ladies program.

Lin McDevitt-Pugh
Lin McDevitt-Pugh is Director of NETSHEILA and is specialized in building network expertise in organizations. In October 2012 she will provide a training for women who want to get into top management layers with organization advice company De Beuk. Call her on +31 6 150 48468 to discuss how your organization can benefit from better networking strategies.

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