I have always believed that quotas were an insult to women and that women should be accepted on boards and in senior positions because of the skills, knowledge and experience they had to offer.
However, Chris Blackhurst’s article in The Independent 29 January 2014 has made me reflect on this again. I found some of it very disconcerting. He suggests that in places where men gather, for example bars, football grounds and golf clubs true feelings about gender equality are expressed. These voices are far from supportive of women in corporate directorships, in fact commitment is only skin deep and many actions are lip service. He argues that quotas are unavoidable if targets are to be met as progress to date has been so slow.
Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, has also come to this same conclusion.
“I grew up in a big international law firm that I love but the number of female partners was so low and had been so low for such a long time that I soon realised that unless we had at least targets, if not quotas, there was no way we were going to have numbers of females in the partnership” Now, says Ms Lagarde, she is, “pro-quotas, pro-targets.”
Francis O’Grady the new boss of the TUC has also advocated the need for quotas and the EU has approved proposals to make large companies fill 40% of their non-executive board posts with women.
But before we move further down this road surely more effort needs to be focused on better childcare tax breaks for women returning to work, casting the net wider for female talent and companies investing in mentoring and development to help the women in their organisations rise to the top.
The IoD has appointed a senior consultant in diversity, as they continue to focus on gender equality in boardrooms. Let us see more appointments like this building networks and bringing women together to promote female participation in senior positions.
Whilst on the subject of equality, the gender pay gap is at 19.7% or 9.6% excluding part-time work. Women are still waiting for pay parity with men even in high-performance work places where there is greater emphasis on team working and functional flexibility.
An inclusive leadership approach pro-actively adopting best practice on equal pay, building an executive talent pipeline, tackling the organisational obstacles and, most importantly, challenging the institutional mindsets in both public and private sector may help us avoid the introduction of quotas.
Let us all work within our sphere of influence to encourage those we know with clout, to show leadership and take steps to break this monoculture. Do it not only because it makes good business sense but because it’s the right thing to do.
Grainne Suter February 2014
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