Women on boards: Three years on

By Dianah Worman, Public Policy Adviser - Diversity @DianahWorman

The significant progress in improving the proportion of women on boards since the Lord Davies review is to be applauded. Today’s latest progress report reveals that the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards has increased from 12.5% in 2011 to nearly 21% today, just 4% shy of the target to achieve 25% representation by 2015. This is tangible progress and shows that a voluntary approach to improving boardroom diversity can make an impact.


This voluntary approach is also in the main supported by CIPD members. Our recent poll of almost 1,000 members found that more than half of HR practitioners would not support minimum quotas for the number of women on boards, 17% of respondents would support quotas only if progress stalls, compared to just 29% who would support the introduction of quotas now because they believe progress is too slow.


However while today’s Women on boards report is undoubtedly a positive step forward it is also important to caution against complacency as much more needs to happen if meaningful progress is to continue after 2015. It is concerning that the proportion of women holding executive positions on FTSE 100 boards has only increased by a little over 1% since 2011 from 5.8% to 6.9%.


The CIPD has always argued that changing the balance of boardroom diversity is a complex issue. For example, Women in the Boardroom: A bird's eye view—a CIPD report based on interviews with female business leaders—showed that many women deselect themselves from board-level jobs for a variety of reasons. These include issues related to flexible working and work-life balance, and the presenteeism culture that prevails at senior levels. Top-level business leaders are perceived as having to be in the office to do their jobs. Furthermore, boardroom culture puts women off. They feel they have to spend too much time playing political games.


Consequently many high-achieving women prefer to set up their own businesses rather than work in big companies. This gives them the autonomy they need to juggle their personal and business lives, even though they continue to drive themselves very hard to be successful. Such evidence is a wake-up call for organisations to rethink where and how work can be done. This requires real leadership and vision on behalf of chief executives and other FTSE 350 executive directors who need to go beyond increasing the proportion of female non execs they recruit to meet Lord Davies’ 2015 deadline to thinking about how they can change organisational culture for the long-term.

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