Company Boards Should More Women Be Recruited?

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Published: 26th October 2012
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For some time there has been a push to improve and increase the number of women who sit on company boards. In 2004 the number of women sitting on FTSE 100 company boards was only 9.4%. Although the number is beginning to rise, in February 2011 the government reckoned that it would take some 70 years to achieve boards which were 'gender-balanced'. Just think about how much talent and experience the country will have lost while it waits for boards to recruit more women. It is not, therefore, surprising that the government has set a minimum target for FTSE 100 companies; by 2015 these companies will be expected to have 25% female representation on their boards. Is this realistic and achievable? The ex-chair of Standard Chartered recently said that he saw no reason why every FTSE 100 company could not achieve this figure within the time allowed, but others have been less certain.

Although there is a general assumption that women agree that they should be better represented on company boards, even they are at odds about how the figure could be reached. Women also have justifiable concerns that some companies may appoint women, regardless of their merits, just to make sure they have fulfilled their quota. Even Teresa May, the Home Secretary, has said that she would never want or take a job merely to satisfy quota requirements. Shouldn't all companies appoint women to their boards because they have appropriate qualifications and experience? Of course, but many organisations will rightly say that the pool of suitable, appropriately qualified women is currently far too small. This means that a quota system will be inevitable for the foreseeable future.

One way to improve the number of women on boards is for organisations to be more open-minded in whom they approach and recruit. Rather than looking within their own sector, academics, civil servants and entrepreneurs should be considered. Such women would bring different skill sets to the board and their differing working experiences would add new dimensions to the board's dynamics. A woman with a background which is different form the company's ethos is more likely to ask questions which their male counterparts take for granted. This approach can be the way for a board to look afresh at an ongoing problem.

But most companies will look to recruit more women from within their own organisations because it's easier so to do. This means that they should be doing more to prepare and train their female staff for board membership.

Assuming that all women are appointed to company boards because they genuinely deserve to be there, there are those who consider that a high percentage of women would never put themselves forward for consideration. This is because they would not feel able to satisfactorily juggle their home life and their work life unless they could afford to buy in appropriate help. Does this mean that companies will only appoint women who are financially secure with a back-up system already in place to make sure that family requirements do not impinge on their board role? Maybe top companies should be considering ways to make sure that their board requirements have built in flexibility.

Overall, although the decision to increase the number of women on top company boards makes sense, maybe more should be done to ensure that the figure of 25% is realistic.

Matt Crumble is employed by PBS UK, a leading Human Resources and payroll outsourcing company. PBS offers HR consultancy and has an online HR document shop selling a wide range of HR policy documents and model contracts of employment.

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