By Bev James, CEO of the Coaching Academy
Vince Cable’s recent statement that he would consider resorting to force in order to increase the number of women in the board room teeters on very dangerous territory.
This announcement follows the publication of Lord Davies second progress report into the push to increase the number of women on boards by 2015. The figures published show that women now make up 17.3% of directors on the boards of FTSE 100 companies, an increase of 10.5% since 2010. With a separate survey by Cranfield School of Management showing that female progress in FTSE 100 companies has reached a plateau in the past six months.
Although these figures are disappointing, the voluntary targets that were set to kickstart female boardroom growth were dangerous and could lead to tokenism, ultimately undermining women’s position in the boardroom. What women need is an equal chance on a level playing field and, once in the boardroom, women need to encourage others and role model the behaviour that they want to see in turn.
Diversity in business is clearly a positive move as it bringing a wider selection of backgrounds, talents and perspectives to the table. Women can and do add to the effectiveness of a board; strong evidence exists to suggest that having more women on the board improves a company's performance. While the culture does need to change board appointments must always be made on merit, with the best qualified candidate getting the job regardless of sex. It is as Margaret Thatcher she said "If you're sure of your talents and abilities you don't expect to be treated differently at work because you are a women".
No one wants to see female board members undermined by the implication that they are only there to balance out the ‘gender quotas’ and Vince Cable needs to keep this in mind before demanding change. Female directors need to know that they are respected for the skills and experience that they bring to a role, rather than what quota they fill.
Instead Vince Cable needs to consider alternatives to try and create a business environment where all people, regardless of gender, are applying for board positions based purely on skill and experience. Hopefully, he will see that trying to force women onto boards has the potential to do more harm than good.
New plans such as those to allow parents to share maternity and paternity leave could assist female career progression as it will help women balance work and family life, enabling them to return to work sooner. This is the kind of plan that the government needs to focus on if they are to keep making progress in this area. Women have to be enabled and given opportunity; merely placing them into roles because of tokenism and a need to meet quotas needs to be discouraged as ultimately counterproductive.
About the author
Bev James is a business mentor, best-selling author and CEO of the Coaching Academy www.bevjames.com @Bev_James