What stops more women executives getting in the boardroom?
Is it a matter of corporate policy? Don’t think so, because I have direct experience of PLCs proudly announcing all-encompassing diversity policies in their annual reports only to see that policy get more and more diluted as you travel up the corporate hierarchy and pretty well disappear entirely in the case of some companies once you get to C suite, executive board and certainly main board level.
Occasionally you see “high powered” female executives parachuted in as external hires, often from the US. Usually these are favourites and prior colleagues of newly appointed CEOs who hire them on the basis that “they can just get the job done” and then disappear as soon as the CEO is sacked. But just as a prophet is never honoured in his (or should that be her?) own land it’s the same for women in their own company. They have and still do find it tough to scale the corporate pyramid.
Privately there is still much discussion of the maternity issue as if it was something that’s just too unreasonable for the demands of modern corporate efficiency. No doubt the male board members of Marks & Spencer had nothing but enlightened thoughts when the architect of the M&S online offer Laura Wade-Gerey announced she was going to become a mother at 50. They probably didn’t see that coming and possibly neither did she!
Up to now corporates have tried to cover themselves by appointing women as non-executive directors but this is often a fig leaf policy initially with many of the women being no more than celebrities from the arts or civil service, certainly not if similar profile to their male counterparts. More recently this has improved as there are more women who are PLC execs in their own right who can slide across to NED roles in other businesses. However, they still tend to be Finance Directors (arguably this discipline is over represented but that is for another blog).
The challenge now is to pick up the pace in promoting senior female executives into the boardroom. There are positive signs that this is happening although how quick we can move from 25% to the new target of 33% is anyone’s guess but I suspect the momentum will make it happen quite quickly. But what about other areas of under representation. I see Chuka Umunna is banging the drum for better representation for ethnic minorities. How will boards respond to that challenge?