Women on Boards – Let the excuses begin
The interim report from the Hampton Alexander Review caused headlines last week. On explaining why they didn’t have enough female representation on their Boards, the review cited the most commonly heard reasons from FTSE 350 chairs and chief executives:
- “I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment”
I would have some sympathy with this if it were presented as a problem that needed solving rather than a reason for non-selection. There is no doubt that the culture and environment of board rooms across the world needs to progress and modernise, but that’s exactly why more diversity is a good thing.
- “There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex”
Oh my…where to go with this one? It reminds me of a CEO many years ago who, when asked why there were no women on his board replied, “Why? Are the men doing such a bad job?” Words fail me.
- “Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”
This could be true. But how do you know? It certainly isn’t representative of the senior women executives I’ve worked with throughout my career. I’d have sympathy if you’d been repeatedly trying to hire and receiving this feedback, but my guess is that isn’t the case.
- “Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?”
There is more than one stakeholder group that is important to the good running of a business, and more than that, this is about leadership. Show some leadership.
- “My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”
Then you should probably have more vacancies on your board available to women. Can you imagine this conversation being acceptable in any other forum or part of society?
- “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”
Whereas there is a plethora of average, middle-aged, white males? I admit they “might” be harder to find, they might be less forward about coming forward, less likely to self promote in the board environment (I have no evidence to support this, I’m just being generous). But a lack of good women? That’s far from my experience.
- “We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn”
If there was ever a response that suggested tokenism, then this would probably be the World Cup winner. This probably worries me more than the other responses because it represents such a complete misunderstanding of the issue.
- “There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were I would think about appointing a woman”
If this read, “we haven’t had a vacancy during my tenure” I might be able to get with it. Also, maybe not just think about it, but actively pursue a diverse shortlist. Maybe.
- “We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector”
Yes, yes you do. But not just that. And board representation should pull on experience from different sectors and different backgrounds to ensure good governance and a diversity of background and opinion. So don’t stop the pipeline, but think about how you could turbocharge it too.
- “I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to”
No. You could appoint them because they’re the best person for the job.
If you’re interested in finding out more, the full and latest Hampton-Alexander Review is published on 27 June.