Diversity in the Board Room – What can Organisations do to Achieve Improved Gender Balance in a Sustained Way?
Contribuion by Suzi West for Balcroft – an operational consultancy and supporter of the Women in the City Awards.
The debate about the positive impact of gender diversity in the Boardroom is by no means a new topic of business discussion. New studies and commentary seem to appear in our In-boxes on a regular basis, suggesting that this is a subject still worthy of our focus – and yet progress since Lord Davies’ initial report and recommendations continues to be slow. Why is this and what can organisations do to redress the continuing gender imbalance in UK Boardrooms?
In 2004, according to the report by Lord Davies of Abersoch on Women on Boards, women made up only 9.4% of the members of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies (7.3% FTSE 250) in the UK. By 2010 this figure had risen to 12.5% (and 7.8% for FTSE 250) – a rate of progress that the current UK Government considers too slow. Lord Davies’s report cites a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2008) which ‘suggests that at the current rate of change it will take more than 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms in the UK’s largest 100 companies’.
Despite the projections in respect of the rate of change in Lord Davies’s initial report, the recommendations to UK government were not in favour of the introduction of legislation, favouring a softer approach of introducing voluntary targets for FTSE 250 companies and also working with Executive Recruiters to establish a voluntary code of conduct to attempt to deliver more high potential female candidates into the executive selection process.
The debate continues
According to a study conducted by CIPD amongst their membership this year ‘female progression to top roles is not sustainable unless organisations provide a strong and sustainable framework to recruit and develop women at every stage of their career’.
I recently had the opportunity of conducting some primary research of my own, which included interviewing senior business people (both men and women) to understand what organisations could do to change the dynamic.
Much of the discussion focused on a need to ensure that an organisation not only had the processes, but also the culture to create an environment for women to succeed and want to progress through the organisation into a senior role – but changing company culture, values and beliefs and transforming your organisational framework is neither an easy or a short term solution.
Legislation not the answer
Both the CIPD study, and my own interviews of senior females and HR Professionals support Lord Davies’ recommendation of not introducing legislation regarding diversity quotas, citing concerns over ‘putting in place the right person for the job’. Furthermore the senior and successful women who I spoke with were worried about the impact of legislation on how their successful appointment might be perceived i.e. that their appointment could be perceived as down to quota-filling rather than selection on merit and capability.
Given Government intervention in the form of quotas or legislation is off the agenda for the time-being, it falls to forward-thinking organisations to take heed of the existing research (see McKinsey’s Diversity Matters report) which points to the positive impact that diversity (both gender and ethnic) at leadership and Board level can have on business performance.
For organisations wishing to make some headway in this regard, here are 6 strategies to consider putting in place:
1. Obtain and communicate Senior Commitment to diversity
Having Senior and Board Room support for a diverse leadership is key.
2. Create an open and supportive culture
Not only does this culture need to exist in the Board Room – but it needs to be communicated and embedded through all levels of the organisation.
3. Put in place unbiased recruitment and selection processes
Not only to attract a diverse selection of candidates, but also to build a balanced ‘slate’ for selection. Recruitment organisations have already signed up to a voluntary code to help organisations do this – but the onus is on organisations to ensure the brief to recruiting organisations sets clear criteria and objectives for the provision of a diverse pool of candidates to be put forward.
4. Provide a culture and working environment which allows a good work-life balance
The lack of work-life balance at the top of organisations can be a deterrent for females to reach for the higher echelons in an organisation and lead to self-deselection. Putting in place a culture which values a better work-life balance and offers more flexible working arrangements can help retain high potential females.
5. Introduce formalised performance and talent management processes
For the identification of high potential women and the active management of their career path through the organisation.
6. Establish mentoring programmes
Not only to guide, focus and provide an experienced sounding board for career development and progression, but also to act as advocate and introducer to a wider network of senior management in order to build profile and exposure opportunities.
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