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Women in business


Even if it is viewed as progress, change is still slow and many commentators doubt the self-regulation approach will work. In the background, the arguments for and against imposing quotas on companies rumbles on, with many vociferous column inches having been devoted to it. To some extent these arguments are just a distraction – if ‘comply or explain’ doesn’t work, the EU is likely to impose quotas anyway. Brussels Justice Commissioner Viviane


Reding is more ambitious than Lord Davies: she wants to see at least 30 per cent female boards by 2015 and 40 per cent by 2020. While quoted as believing “self-regulation would be the best way to solve the problem”, if she doesn’t see real improvement by 2012 then “legislation on quotas may follow”.


“Companies with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without”


As these messages are absorbed in the City and similar initiatives ripple across Europe, diversity committees are suddenly finding they’re getting bigger audiences. Where once this problem received little attention, most Chairmen are now convinced of the arguments and are demanding more women in the top team, only to be confronted with the difficulty of tracking down this corporate female talent. Where are the women ready, willing and able to step into the boardroom?


Talent slipping away According to McKinseys: “Women start careers in business and other professions with the same level of intelligence, education, and commitment as men. Yet comparatively few reach the top echelons”. So why the haemorrhaging of talent? The assumed answer is women opt out to


raise families, hence the reason government targets are below 50 per cent. But new figures from the Centre for Work Life Policy report a staggering 43 per cent of Generation X women – the prime age group for promotion to senior management – don’t have any children, so this reasoning doesn’t stack up. Yet balancing home, work and childcare


is obviously part of the picture – a survey of female City executives showed 53 per cent citing greater flexibility as a motivating factor in their work above money and job security, but so did 33 per cent of the men surveyed. City firms have found the key to flexible working is not making more options available for women, but to everyone, and then making sure they are seen to be working. Flexible working needs to be role modelled by top male performers before others in the system feel comfortable enough to do the same. While the Davies Report focused specifically on FTSE 350 companies, the picture is the same in many other large companies. Look closer at the gender structure in companies across the UK and in the Channel Islands and you see a female pyramid – women in the majority at administrator levels, in equal numbers at middle management and alarmingly few above that. Dig deeper and we find what could


really getting in the way – invisible and subconscious barriers to change. Long-held gender stereotypes about the relative strengths of men and women have been absorbed into the collective psyche, influencing attitudes, values and behaviours.


46 businesslife.co October/November 2011


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