FTSE 100 Gender Quota’s: Did Lord Davies get it right??

Let’s remind ourselves of the context here:

  • The Cranfield school of Management in its report published last year revealed that just 3 women joined FTSE 100 boards in 2010 bringing the total female board membership to 12.5 percent
  • Norway, the first country to introduce quotas in response to female under-representation on boards of large companies saw a rise from 6% to 44% between 2002 and 2008. France, Finland, Germany and Sweden have all either set similar recommended quotas, or have legislation pending that would ensure they did.
  • A report by the ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management), based on interviews with 3,000 managers, suggests that 47% of women believe that quotas should be introduced in order to rapidly increase the number of female directors on boards of British companies
  • Almost three-quarters of women in managerial roles believe that a glass ceiling preventing them reaching the top of their professions still exists, a report has revealed.

In addition to the above, Nicola Horlick, dubbed as a ‘City Superwoman’ by the Sunday Times is reported as arguing for ‘positive discrimination’ as a solution to push more women into the board room: “Our public companies show no desire to be inclusive of women, and I see no choice other than to push them in that direction…sometimes you have to create rules in order to ensure other sections of society get a chance

I understand Nicola’s view, but I do think it is a very limited one. I think what is needed here is a considered approach. What we are actually talking about in a nut-shell is a change in attitudes and behaviours which will positively promote the effective use of our human capital toward improving the FTSE 100’s competitive advantage – of which gender inclusivity – amongst others, plays a fundamental constituent part. For it is the engrained (and sometimes subconscious) negative attitudes and behaviours that indirectly support people and organisational development  processes that are deemed to be unfair which lead to the ‘glass-ceiling’ effect that adversely impact women – as well as a range of other ‘protected characteristics’.

The end-result of all workforce based quota’s or targets is ‘equal representation’. But equal representation will not solve the long-term issue of corporate attitudinal and behavioural change which I suggest the FTSE 100 needs in order to breathe new life into its understanding of what the ’21st century competitive advantage’ means and looks like. Indeed, it is important not to take this issue lightly as it presents our business community with a strategic opportunity to raise its game as a global player in what is now a global and competitively diverse marketplace.

It is the above, I suggest, that Lord Davies referred to when he stated in his report: “A radical change is needed in the mindset of the business community if we are to implement the scale of change that is needed.” I argue: No change in mindset is equivalent to no real change at all – despite the introduction of quotas. What the business community will have on the back of a quota-driven approach is tokenism not talent, stereotypism rather than the recognition of individuals unique creative abilities, (similar to recent comments regarding gender inclusivity made by the CEO of the Deustche Bank) and ultimately business processes that are not able to deliver real quality (or equality) and therefore unfit for purpose – Lord Davies got it right.

In an environment where approximately 83% of CEO’s see talent management as a top priority over the next 12 months, the challenge for the business community now is to act. For in-action, I suggest, is the new type of ‘indirect discrimination’. Not doing what we know we ought to as responsible professionals is the cancer eating away at our individual business processes ensuring they are not robust enough to deliver real, tangible benefits – which steals away from businesses discovering ‘the diversity business case’ for their own individual business and applying it accordingly. Where the business case for diversity is discovered and applied, it then presents an added opportunity to share with other businesses as part of a joint and industry-led business development process. It seems to me that this is what Lord Davies advocates by way of a strategic response from our FTSE 100 partners…

I suggest in response to Lord Davies’ ‘radical change’ that each business now needs to take a step back and ask itself a simple question: “How fair, inclusive and transparent are our recruitment, selection and development/promotion processes?” – Found the answer? Now what are you actually going to do about it??

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