By Claire West

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) welcomes Davies review — but says realising its potential must be about more than ‘skirts on seats’

Jackie Orme, Chief Executive at the CIPD, has welcomed the publication of Lord Davies’ review, Women in the Boardroom, which calls for firms to adopt voluntary targets in order to achieve a minimum of 25% female representation on boards by 2015.

Jackie Orme said:

“We welcome Lord Davies focus on a voluntary approach. His review marks the start of a process. It is the right start, but everyone involved in the governance of British firms now needs to step back and recognise that there needs to be a fundamental shift in established perceptions of what a great board member looks like. That is the only way we will ensure we get to and beyond the 20% target swiftly and in a sustainable way.

“That means far more than setting internal targets and filling them in a tick-box way. From my own experience in business, I know that a range of opinions, backgrounds and perspectives is always better than what is often referred to as ‘group think’. But I also know that we face a challenge to some severely entrenched attitudes in many boardrooms. I was once told a startling story by a woman who, being interviewed for a non-executive director role at a FTSE 100 firm, was told: ‘Don’t worry; we’re not interviewing you because you’re a woman. We’ve already got one of those’. It is precisely that kind of tokenism and numbers game we need to avoid.

“Meeting Lord Davies’ objectives must be about more than skirts on seats. It needs to be about a concerted challenge, lead by chairs of boards and headhunters themselves, to the established views of the skillset, background and range of experiences that make great board members. That board members should be appointed on merit is a truism — but the definitions of what constitutes ‘merit’ have been allowed to become too comfortable and too static — to the detriment of corporate performance.

We need to get better at drawing from non-traditional sources — and the benefits of that approach will extend far beyond getting more women in the room. It holds out the prospect of generating a vibrant new generation of board members, capable of challenging orthodoxy, banishing group think, and generating more sustainable growth for their firms.

“By seizing this opportunity to challenge established norms, we’ll do so much more than just ensuring women are allowed to make up the numbers. Lord Davies has created a platform we can build on — but everyone involved in the governance of our biggest firms now needs to step up and play their part.”