Women in Boardrooms: Supply not Quotas.

Last year, Lord Davies of Abersoch decreed that businesses should have 25% of the seats around the country’s boardrooms occupied by women, and set a target of 2015 for the top 250 businesses in the UK to get there. A year on, how is positive discrimination going?

Well, the FTSE-100 now has 16.7% female board members up from 12% a year ago, and the number of all-male boards has dropped to just 8. Well done Blue-Chips. The FTSE-250 has faired slightly worse, and the overall top 250 businesses have stayed roughly static at 10-12%.

Good work then, well done Lord Davies…. Except that growth was all last year. In 2012 the total number of female C-Level appointments in the FTSE-100 was….?  Zero. And only 5% of the 87 FTSE-100 appointments in the last 2 years have been female (Source: BoardWatch). Even worse, the FTSE-250 hasn’t put a woman on a board for over 12 months (and has lost some, poached by the FTSE-100 and large private businesses).

The UK is not alone. EU Justice Minister, Viviane Reding, set similar targets for Europe’s larger businesses last year; Targets that again have been missed (attaining just 13.7% female representation on boards). So dismayed is Ms Reding that she is formally proposing that the European Commission is to set quotas – 40% females on boards by 2015, initially NEDs but with the plan to encompass all. Stick, not carrot. Fortunately, the UK government has stood firm in its objection to quotas.

So what’s the problem?

Simple. Supply. At the current time there are simply not enough well qualified women to go around to fill 25% of boardroom seats of the top 250 businesses in the UK. Many female commentators, the amazing business-woman, UK Digital Champion, co-founder of LastMinute.com and Non-Exec at M&S, Martha Lane Fox being one, will vehemently disagree, but having been immersed in executive recruitment for 18 years, once you get to FTSE-350 (or comparable privately-owned size) over 90% of genuinely suitable contenders are male. That’s just the way it is.

Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox

[At this point, I must highlight that well over the magic, arbitrary decreed 25% of my own executive placements in the past 5 years have been female].

There is no doubt that businesses with females on the board have typically fared better than those without (a Credit Suisse survey stated that large-cap stock performed 26% better on average when females had seat(s) at the board table). These same female-leader-influenced businesses also rank better in employee surveys/”Best places to work” rankings/etc. (although as any scientist will remind us, the fact that two events repeatedly occur at the same time does not mean that one event causes the other.) But regardless, there is no specific reason to shun female board representation.

There is no significant discrimination from businesses in my experience either. I have only come across one business in over five years that has specifically shown a preference for a male, and that was due to the requirement to interact with (and travel to visit) a predominantly middle-eastern client base.

Indeed, majority of businesses specifically request female inclusion on a top table shortlist (often regardless of lower ‘ranking’) with a significant number, especially more recently, stating a preference for a female appointee.

So why is supply such an issue?

If we take a look at scholastic achievements, girls typically outperform boys, right up to A-Level standard. There are also more female graduates than male, and their average classification is again higher. Even through the progression from junior to middle management, women typically have the better of the male counterparts. Looking at the average sub-£70k shortlist, ceteris paribus, women outnumber male inclusions.

Once we progress from middle-to-senior management however, that balance shifts. With £six-figure shortlists, males dominate and by the time we break £150k (still well below the pay-grade of Lord Davies’ top-250), 90% of genuine contenders are male.

Again, Europe is no better. As stated above, 13.7% of board members of large firms in the EU are female, (8.5% in 2003). Female CEOs/Chairs/Presidents are even rarer: just 3.2% of the total (1.6% in 2003), well behind the 7% in the UK. Yet mirroring the UK, women account for 60% of new graduates in the EU, and enter many occupations in roughly equal numbers with men.

The biggest blame for this might lay with mother nature and society (and the women themselves). A late-20s male middle manager is 3 times more likely to relocate or work away all week than a female. By the time we get to late-30s, men are over ten times more likely to genuinely consider relocation or a weekly commute than their female counterparts.

Human Biology and family considerations (and traditions?) are a major factor, but even pre-family, women are significantly less likely to relocate. If you take a look at the current directors of FTSE-350 businesses, well over 80% have had career forced relocations with over 60% having done so more than 3 times. Relocation is not the sole driver here, but it gives an indication of how career ranks against other drivers within the different genders, rightly or wrongly.

I have undertaken two general management processes this summer, both nearing conclusion, both with a stated preference for a female appointee. Both processes have stringent criteria, need great time commitment from the appointee and both recognise that the bulk of prospective candidates currently live outside a commutable range.

Both process longlists were 45% and 60% female respectively. Yet over 90% of female contenders rejected the opportunity solely on the basis of (re)location compared with just 25% of male. My clients will get their woman, but it will not be a solely natural process and has taken many times the work to find and coerce female candidates to consider.

Another insight can be gained by looking at the average gender split in trade associations. On average, only 12% of trade associations members are female. Such associations claim membership is a commitment to a profession?

One of the stated strengths of female directors can also be one of the shackles. Caution. Many reports have stated that female directors are more risk-aware, and consequentially, more risk averse than their male counterparts. A great strength in prudent business, and even more so in times of economic turmoil (the same Credit Suisse report shows that businesses with female board members typically have lower gearing)…..and yet, with two female directors out of 10, Barclays exceeded the average and came close to the magical 25%. It didn’t help them a great deal?

However, that same risk averse, cautious attitude can leave women lower down the corporate ladder less open to risk when it comes to their own career, having a fatal knock-on effect as peers continue to climb.

Even when women DO ascend to the highest ranks, the opposition they face, especially from other women, is enough reason to dissuade other women from following the path. Take a look at the venom directed at Marissa Mayer for having the audacity to take on the Yahoo! CEO role despite being 6 months pregnant, despite her position as the best man for the job.

Are quotas the answer?

No. Emphatically no. Aside from the raw fact that imposing quotas itself creates discrimination, it is ludicrous to suggest that forcing business to adopt a significant minimum number of women on boards of directors will even work, let alone be beneficial.

Raving quota supporters such as Cosmo Editor Fiona Cowood will cry that the economy is screwed and in a double dip recession, trying to make out that the current board structure is to blame. Even ignoring the Barclays issue above, if the supply of female directors is already stretched, how can the forced introduction of less suitable candidates (or any minority/demographic grouping) help the situation?

There isn’t even public support. IBTimes commissioned a survey to gauge opinion on quotas for women on boards, only 17% in any way agreed with such a quota and only 13% would support the introduction of such a quota…..yet 61% said there should be a fair representation of women on boards.

So just about everyone recognises that there should be more women on boards, but it just isn’t happening.

‘Pro’ protesters argue that it is bigotry, prejudice and raw sexism. I don’t doubt it exists, but only in the very minority of occasions. It boils down to supply.

Vanessa Valley (CEO of women’s network, http://www.wearethecity.com/) poses an interesting argument. She asks why should women aspire to be on boards anyway? Do women simply not need the ego trip of the top job? She says only a tiny handful of the women she asks have any interest, or even comprehension on what being on a board entails.

Vanessa argues that too much emphasis is placed on ‘women on boards’ now, rather than how we spend the next 10/15 years educating the future talent pool. You can’t create 300 female board members overnight, they need a decade, maybe 2 of development to be there by rights. “If we can work together to ensure our future generations of talent obtain the experience, skills and network they need to reach senior positions, we may well build a culture of women that aspire to and are able to operate at board level.

There is no doubt, there are less women sat around board tables than there should be, but forcing the issue through arbitrary targets and quotas is not the answer. The drive has to be to develop a generation of female leaders worthy to take the fight to their male counterparts and creating a natural fairly equal split.  As Vanessa says “Forcibly throwing a number of women in the mix is not necessarily going to fix the problem.”

Quotas are seen by many women as an insult – to suggest that they are not able to gain such positions on merit, needing meddling politicians and arbitrary statutes to give them a peg-up? Surely someone with such Pro-Feminist views as Martha Lane Fox and Fiona Cowood should abhor such a notion? Or does the end justify the means? Is this just about stats, not about the positive impact on business?

But the pro-quota brigade are insistent, despite the argument that making major unnatural, forced changes to top management during the ongoing eurozone crisis is near lunacy, indeed the proponents often suggest that the lack of female representation is a/the cause of the eurozone crisis, and that forcibly redressing the balance to the magical 25% (or 40% for the EU as a whole) will resolve the crisis. It still doesn’t address how you suddenly find twice as many suitable female C-Level execs than exists today?

The challenge of increasing female representation is very real, as is fair representation from all walks of society, but has to be done through natural means, not forced, ill thought-out quotas. Once we introduce quotas for gender, what happens to ethnicity/race? Or sexual orientation? Or using the Paralympics as a current topic, disability? We need to ensure genuine meritocracy. The best Man needs to get the job, all applicant just need to become that best Man.

What’s more – as soon as you introduce set quotas, or even a set target, businesses will simply get around it. My prediction?….. We will hit 25%, but businesses will just fudge the figures and recruit/create a load of female Non-Execs to do a day per month of listening to Exec Directors talk around the board table. No real impact, but a box ticked. Witness the phenomenon in Norway where the 40% target is primarily made up of ‘Golden Skirts’… Women that hold dozens of NED roles (up to 100 in some cases) to aid businesses comply with the quota.

Businesses need to be left to run themselves, to make their own decisions and to subsequently live or die by their actions. One-size-fits-all quotas interfere disproportionately with the freedom and ability of companies to organise their own affairs, in good times and bad. They disregard the highly diverse conditions in different regions/sectors/companies and do not take into account the way corporate boards function and are renewed.

Centrally forced 25% female boards are not the answer. Just ask Barclays.

*** Update*** – You can hear me discuss the topic on BBC Radio Manchester, 17th September from 5.30-6pm.

89 Comments on “Women in Boardrooms: Supply not Quotas.”

  1. Gary, as always this is an interesting read. I also don’t think its your most controversial! The key driver of business performance is getting the right bums on the right seats within a structure that allows the business to deliver on its objectives. The quota system assumes that prejudice against women is widespread at senior level in business. In my experience this is a total fallacy- If the right candidate is female, she will 99.9% of the time be employed in the role. The issue here is societal; many women change priorities after the age of 30. I have many female friends who have “toned down” career aspirations because they “don’t want” to progress any further; this naturally reduces the pool of senior level female candidates. The benefits of women on the board are huge, but only if the person is the right person, and not just the right gender.

    • This is exactly mirrors my experience. The issues are real, the benefits are real, but the reasons are wildly misunderstood thus the rectification targetting the wrong issues.

  2. Great blog Gary and some interesting stats. Isn’t it up to the workplace to accomodate women as they reach that point in their career when they start to lose out to men on the corproate ladder?

    • I genuinely thing that business has done a lot to improve equality in the workplace, witness the male/female ratios in professional services and large corporates, but can the workplace do anything to change a woman’s attitude and desires when it comes to her family? or when it comes to the desire to climb to the top and become a ‘fat cat’?

      If they do too much to pursuade women to stay or shortern maternity leave they are billed as evil, if they don’t they are seen as anti-women? Witness the hatred given to Marissa Mayer because she isn’t staying at home for longer to look after her new child? The issue becomes rock and hard place. The workplace as a part of society needs to address the long term supply of women with the desire to climb to the top.

  3. There is so much focus on this topic that people are missing the point, you can’t make water flow up hill. No matter how much you want it, how much you ask for it, how much you legislate it, it won’t happen.

    It’s time that we moved on and let boards structure themselves and focus on profit and sustainability not on the demongraphic make up of their board room and how many pink towels to buy for the exec washroom.

    If women, (or blacks, gays, disabled etc) want their seat at the board table, earn it. As long as there is no descrimination going on, let nature take its course.

  4. The point has been over played so many times. If you want to climb the ladder, it takes effort. There is no point giving up to play family, or not wanting to inconvenience yourself and then complaining that you’ve been left behind (and this is men and women). Why should business be forced to make compromises to fit in with the lives of the less driven and discriminate against the more driven?

  5. Why should people have to relocate just to get a better position? Why can’t businesses just farm the local talent? Poor excuse.

  6. Great blog again Gary. Such a hot topic and so much mis information. Well done on a well thought out, considered blog. Look forward to reading some very mixed feedback!

  7. Great Blog again Mr C and tamer than I was expecting from you. People whinging it’s not fair don’t deserve any accomodation to help them get the job they think they deserve. If I was passed over by a recruiter or a business because they had to give my slot to a woman I would go biblical. Alas both would probably lie so I would never find out, but where would the law stand if I was rejected from a job purely for having ‘balls’?

  8. Interesting article. I’m always sceptical when people say that businesses do better with women on the board, your stats make some sense and go some way into explaining that but I can’t help thinking it is an faux reason much of the time. I agree balance is important and with many household decisions being made by the woman of the house, their opinion is valid – doesn’t mean it has to be a boardroom level input though? Isn’t that what marketing are there for? Leave the boardroom for strategic input.

    • You also have to argue that a woman who has defied the odds and climbed to a large company board table, probably isn’t the perfect housewife style home-based decision maker that the defenders of the gender portray. The ball breakers I’ve worked for as high acheiving women are no more clued up to the life of a housewife and decisions she makes than their male counterparts, arguably less so as at least the males typically have such a creature at home?

  9. You guys are missing the point. Women are easily equal to men. It is not the womans fault that she has to have forced leaves from employment to start a family, or are you suggesting women should be forced to choose between family and career?

    It IS therefore all employers duty to ensure that women are in no way prejudiced because of biological factors. Quotas are needed to force businesses to make whatever allowances are needed to promote the ability of women to advance in their organisation, whether that is flexible working, childcare, offering part time positions or job sharing for all women even up to exec grade. Business is too male orientated and needs modernising. Women make for more ethical, forward thinking leaders. Men ned to realise that.

  10. Great blog and interesting facts put forward. I find Vanessa Valley’s points the most interesting and suggest that could be a key to the supply issue of senior female execs.

    Most of the male leaders I have come across have been fuelled by ego to at least a reasonable extent, a trait that a bulk of men have quite naturally. Women don’t possess anything like such ego driven tendancies and thus perhaps just don’t see the appeal of reaching the board and the impact on life it has.

    Anyway, well done on a well researched blog.

  11. The notion that women themselves are in any way to blame for there only being 10% female directors is rediculous. We get held back every single step of the way. I have been on maternity leave twice, reduced the time away to 8 months and 6 months respectively, had to suffer much of the time on less than full pay and then had to fight to not return to a stagnated position, my employer wanted me to come back into the role I left when all my peers had been advanced in my absence. Only under the threat of legal action did they relent. This is the battle women face to get an even playing field.

  12. Whole heartedly agree Gary. I’ve worked hard to get to stat director, and having got here see my efforts as worthwhile. Had I got here as part of a necessary quota I’d have felt cheated.

    Let my peers of both genders be rated according to ability, not by gender box ticking.

  13. I actually like the blog and you make some exceptionally good points. I am on the pro-quota camp as I simply want the world to see how good some of these off-radar female execs really are, but I do agree with many of your points.

    One thing we need to bear in mind though, in order to hit this level of 25%, we only need to find something like 300 women. 300 out of approx 30 million that have the ability to lead and the ability to challange at the top table. We’re not asking for 1000s, just 300.

  14. Why should governemnts, in any way, get involved in telling business what to do? No business is run as badly as this country (any business would have been liquidated), politicians of both colours have proven themselves to be utterly inept, and yet they STILL continue to tell us how to run our businesses.

    Paracitic ministers and their even more toxic shadow counterparts should stop interfering. If they was communist style control, go elsewhere.

  15. Great Blog Gary. I agree with you on the quota issue, but I’m not sold on the lack of suitable females to assume a top table seat. Are you saying that the 160 or so FTSE-100 female directors are totally unique or heartless career-bitches? I can’t comment having never met them, but I can’t think they are all that unusual?

    Surely the emphasis is on encouraging business to develop women more than encouraging women to develop themselves?

    • No, of all the female FTSE-100 directors I have met, not a single one has been a ‘career bitch’, but all will cite a typically male trait of putting the career first ahead of everything else for a large part of their career.

      It is an issue to encourage women to progress, but the long term desire has to be there in return.

  16. Funny that there have been masses of high profile failures of male business leaders and yet not a single female that has had the same failure. Doesn’t that tell you that women may be the more cautious but they run the better ship?

    • Best not to mention Sly Bailey or Rebekkah Brookes then? Women do bring caution, but that can be a failing. Was Sly Bailey’s over cautious attitude the downfall of Trinity Mirror? Her failure to adapt to change and adopt new ideas? The male leaders that have been vilified have been done so for remuneration reasons, usually against a backdrop of good if not very good performance. No male leader has had a catastrophic business failure in the same magnitude of Trinity Mirror?

      • It’s frustrating that often one woman is held up as a reflection of all women.
        This doesn’t happen as a natural consequence of comment on a man’s mistake – business or otherwise.

        The film Inside Job covers in-depth the cause of the banking crisis, primarily led by men, that’s a fairly catastrophic business failure.

        Completely agree, anti-quotas: we need to tackle the supply of talented women. Instead, businesses should look to publically commit to a target though, after taking a hard look at their workforce.

        Good point re we’re just looking for 300 women. Women make up nearly 50% of the UK’s workforce…developing the pipeline should be straightforward. Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as that.

        The reality is women make up a significant part of the workforce, yet face a gender pay gap and are not equally (or even satisfactorily) represented in positions of seniority / on boards – there is an issue. And businesses need to work to address this. This isn’t about endorsing positive discrimination – far from it, that helps no-one.

        Same applies to diversity and inclusion of all people who aren’t white male.

        (And no, that does not mean white males are being marginalised!)

  17. Of course we need forced action. Businesses have been left to resolve this issue themselves and have spectacularly failed, as have headhunters like you Gary. Forced action is now vital to redress blatant discrimination.

    Even our own government can’t get it right. David ‘call me Dave’ Cameron had the golden opportunity to demonstrate he is connected with the current issues by ensuring he had a 50/50 split of male/female in his refreshed cabinet (as well as binning George Osborne) but alas he has actually decreased the female numbers on the cabinet.

    Then he wonders why women vote Labour.

    • I’m sure some headhunters have failed at getting women into the boardroom, but those won’t survive for long. I’m not sure what a headhunter can do if the supply of individuals is simply not there though. If the 20 most suitable candidates are male, do we ignore most of them just to avoid discrimination, and in doing so, discriminate against even more?

      Likewise if Cameron had adopted a strict 50/50 split, her would have been criticised for putting politics ahead of the right course for the country (as all politicians do anyway, but thats a WHOLE different blog!)

  18. Great blog Gary. The whole thing is a storm in a teacup. A handful of birds geting antsy over their sisters not doing what they themselves can’t/won’t do anyway, and a few blokes getting all precious about having women in their club.

    Most of us just get on with running businesses with the best teams possible.

  19. Great blog and brilliant timing with the Hilary Devey programme. Interesting to see similar comments made on there as above. Do think there is only so much a woman can do to get herself noticed in the workplace at any level, employers must take the brunt of compensating for female specific hurdles.

  20. The whole ideas of quotas is rediculous. You only need to look to at any alumni listing 15-20 yrs post graduation to see that on average, women climb off the corporate ladder significantly nmore than men, and these are graduates. It’s just different courses for different horses.

  21. Great article. Interesting to see and be reminded of how the tables turn from women being ahead to falling behind. Is this childcare costs that affect women progression to the baordroom?

  22. Why does anyone need additional help to get a role they are suitable for? Senior execs should be more than capable of making themselves known, if they aren’t, they are clearly not as good as those who can? Wannabe execs of either gender shouldn’t need legal help to get a job. To suggest they do is an insult to the people, especially women that HAVE made it to a FTSE100 board.


  23. Hot topic well researched and well covered. I’m not sure I wholly agree with the supply issue, so many people seem to tell me otherwise, but I guess they are not as emerged into the real case as a HeadHunter?

    Either way, a well balanced piece.

  24. We critically must not pander to the quota brigade. If we allow less than ideal candidates to get roles over ideal candidates, then not only do we water down the quality of our executive teams, we open the flood gate to every other so-called discriminated faction. Before we know it we will have race, disability, sexual-orientation, age, etc all claiming their 25%….and their are not many 25% slices to go around!

    Why is meritocracy such a bad thing?

  25. If quotas are so wrong, why do we find the 40% quota in Norway working so well? If you force people to do it, they suddenly find a way!

    • The 40% in Norway is NOT working as well as you would think, the bulk of women that have increased the numbers are non-exec, with more than 10 women having over 5 posts each, and 3 with more than 10 appointments. Almost 100 ‘seats’ are actually 15 women who have set themselves out as career statistic hitters, helping business tick a box rather than specifically assisting the business(es).

    • The quotas in Norway are a great success as a political stunt but the impact on business whilst very real is nothing like as significant as the proponent will claim. Most businesses have been forced to adhere to these stipulations but have been very intelligent about how they have done so.

      For a first part, most women hold more junior positions around the board table. Second over half of the female held roles did not exist before the quotas were in place, many aren’t really needed as board director which leads onto the third and most significant game business is playing: Simply giving female executives a notional seat on the board. This can be seen by the way that having seen the number of female execs steadily increase for years, the numbers have decreased since the quotas have been in place. Quite simply, businesses have “promoted” female execs to the board to make up the numbers on the board without actually effecting any real change.

      Falsk etterretning


      • Fantastic insight. Scandanavia is always held up in such high esteem from a business ethics perspective, it is very interesting to see the truth behind the headlines. I don’t doubt that having women on the boards is generating some wins, but it would be interesting to see how much more could be gained if there were half the women, but far greater quality in far more serious roles.

        The route is surely a halfway house between voluntary codes and strict, punishable targets? Why not incentivise businesses through tax breaks/investment grants etc? Carrot, not stick?

    • The problems comes from when people are forced to do it, they will do what they need to in order to comply and as we are increasingly seeing, the things people will do get further and further away from truth, objectivity and ethics.

  26. Great blog Gary and very timely with Hilary Devey’s current series. If you have attained well over 25% female appointees, but claim that a quota of 25% would be unworkable, how have you managed it? or are you just claiming that you are just far better than the average?

    • I can’rt speak for Gary but our executive search firm here in the U.S. also exceeds the 25% target of women executive placements (and nearly 40% of all candidates placed meet 1 or more U.S. Diversity requirements) simply by working with a larger pool of initial candidates than other search firms. We cast a wider net and do not rely on established network connections- which are generally male oriented- when conducting a search project.

      A larger initial pool of qualified candidates means more female/minority candidates should pass through the knock-out stages; a short list of five candidates will routinely have 2-3 diversity candidates from our firm while other firms may present 1 diverssity candidate out of five. We do not intentionally search out or promote Diversity candidates- we present based solely on qualification and corporate culture fit and let the process work for itself.

      Our firm is becoming more established with Corporate Governance searches because we can demonstrate a track record of female/minority candidate success with C-Level and senior management search projects. Compnaies in the U.S. are looking to become more diverse bacause it makes good business sense for them to do so. We promote our Diversity hire rate as a result of fully surveying the talent marketplace, not as an objective to meet government or societal objectives.

      • Thats a great point Tom, and again proof that meritocracy is the right path, as long as it is true meritocracy.

        Alas, the practices employed by hiring businesses often mean that less fastidious search firms will not cast that wider net. Many businesses, and particularly HR functions seek to commoditise recruitment, lowering its value by reducing the costs they are prepared to invest, thus search firms will often take the easy route of relying on old contacts, or on those who are actively job seeking by solely relying on their recruitment database.

        The smarter search firm goes to the market and, as the name suggests, searches – alas, this takes time, resource and cost.

    • I would clearly claim that I am far better than average, but my 25%+ is more reflective of the fact that not every person I place is a director, and once we dip into that ‘marzipan’ layer of one tier below board-level, the female inclusions become far far greater.

  27. Do you REALLY believe that a mixed board is good thing? Do you REALLY think that women make an significant impact just because they are women? Or is it just yet another personality around the table?

    We can all cite step changes in boardroom activity when a specific personality joins, are women automatically such a different animal in such a position.

    Can’t help thinking this is just another EU driven, pathetic attempt at so-called fairness.

    • On the basis that 80% of household purchasing decisions are made by women, I would say strategic female input was not only useful and worthy, but downright essential for any business. Whether that needs to be board level input is the only question in my eyes?

      • If, big if, 80% of decision are genuinely made by women, that only has an input in consumer businesses.

        Also, don’t forget that the women that do make such decisions at home are the ones who typically spend a lot of time AT home while their husbands are out at work with minimal time to make such decisions.

        If the woman is a board Director, is she likely to have the same time constraints as make directors and thus not able to make such decisions in the home, negating the prime defense of the pro-women movement? Is the women who DOES have the time and opportunity to make these consumer purchasing decisions going to be as effective/committed to their board position as their male counterparts?

        Sounds a weak argument to me.

        (I’m not married, live alone, run a business. My decision making ability is the area that I am deficient in!)


    • Whether you think female inclusion is a good thing or not, surely just the premise of fairness is a critical driver? Why should a key area of society be excluded just because they have ovaries?

    • I genuinely think mixed board elict better results. Look at any work study, or even short term project, the mixed teams work better and have a greater ability to challenge those thoughts to create a better end result.

  28. Fascinating about Norway, had no idea that it wasn’t quite as perfect as it seemed, BUT, even if half of the places are taken by serial non-exec, there is still over 20% female. That must tell us something? 25% is easily achievable in the UK. We just need the right attitude to mixed gender boards.

    • But is that because of the direct input women have? or the way that Men behave/react when there are females peers around the table?

  29. Great blog Gary, I enjoy your writing style and how it is developing, your blogs are very thought provoking and informative.

    Anyway, picking up on your comments about relocation. Is that really such an issue? I’ve never moved for my job and have never had to make a career limiting choice because of it. I have had to ensure I am living in a senible commuting distance from London and had to accept a 90 minute commute at times, but I’ve never felt the pressure to relocate or work away during the week.

    I can see how a small number of people will face pressure to move internally and take international postings, but surely majority of these are done for partly personal reasons, especially for those earlier in their career?

    I’m not doubting your findings, nor your statistics on the number relcating etc, just surprised by them. Is my naivity limiting my own career options?

    Well done again Gary, great blog.

    • Thank you!

      Relocation becomes a huge factor for those outside of London where the options (to become one of Lord Davies top-250) are significantly more limited due to a dearth of FTSE-150 and large private businesses. I only know of two northerners in FTSE-350 board positions that have never had to relocate away.

      Perhaps this brings a side argument – is Women in the Boardroom a regional issue as much as a gender one?

  30. I don’t see how location or relocation can be in any way a barometer for career hunger? So some people don’t want to move, big deal? Surely it is an employers failing that they would expect an employee, especially a valued one, to have to relocate to get the experience they need to develop their own career?

    I would steadfastly refuse to relocate unless it wholesale suited me at that time.

    • You are missing the point. It is not businesses forcing people to relocate, it is people grabbing the opportunities that arise elsewhere that sees them take leaps in their careers. If an opportunity arises, internally or externally, that is a clear upward move from your current role, then taking the opportunity advances your career.

      If on the other hand you sit tight and wait for such an opportunity to arise on your doorstep, then you may find yourself months or years behind the person that does seize the opportunity.

      It becomes an interesting challenge, people in the SE have far greater opportunities within reasonable commuting distancem those based elsewhere will be at a disadvantage unless prepared to work/move anywhere.

      Great food for thought!

    • Good side topic.

      Surely the location issue is peoples ability and or desire to seize opportunities. That ability throughout a persons career is what makes the single biggest difference. I have unashamedly put my career first and followed every possible opportunity to get where I am now (I am one of the Top-250 directors in question, but have been so for over 8 years). I am still devoted to my family, but accept that I will not see them much during the course of the week as I travel extensively. It is a choice I made, I fought for and I defend vehmently.

      There is no reason why any other female can’t do likewise, and no reason why women need concessions to get there.

      The willingness to consider different locations is therefore critical and perhaps those outside of London, or without a willingness to work in London, do indeed find themselves at a real disadvantage?

      • You may be willing to leave your children with a stranger/childminder while you jet around the world wining and dining, but some people actually have a heart and a sense of responsibility. These same people are then precluded from attaining executive posts.

        Why have children if you are going to palm them off on others?

      • Nichola, prejudgement is the reason your cause loses so much ground. My husband stays at home to look after our children, they get optimum care and affection. It kills me to not see them as much as I would like, but much like every other board director with children, male or female, we all have to make sacrifices as the breadwinner, to take care of our families.

  31. Very true and real issue about relocation. Having been born and started my career in Yorkshire, I was determined to base my professional life there, as was my wife. We both qualified with the same Big-6 firm (showing my age) and went on to work for major corporations. We were easily level pegging, both attaining FD roles within 4 years of qualifying.

    I was then offered a huge step up to move to London. As she was greatly enjoying her career, I did the weekly commute. She was offered two other roles, one overseas, one in the Midlands but chose to keep our home base in Yorkshire with her existing employer. Three years later, I had more than doubled my salary and amassed a chunky LTIP pot. I was then approached to join a public company as CFO. It was in an even less accessible part of the country but came with a huge leap in earnings and potential. My wife still didn’t want to move so I mantained the weekly commute.

    7 years later, she is still with the same SME business, still enjoying her role meanwhile I have grossed over £7-figures in 4 of the last 5 years and am main board of a major public company.

    Had she been prepared to relocate, or lived in London, she could easily have emulated my career, she got better qualifications and was the higher achiever. The choices made determined her future, not discrimination against women in the workplace.

    Location, and a persons willingness to respond to it has a huge impact.

  32. Great comment from Anders above describing how the perfect world really is in Norway. We are proud of our culture and how we balance our high taxation levels with advanced social provision but the matter of diversity has generated an undercurrent of discontent amongst some.

    It is true that we are the lead in the world with women on boards in our businesses but as Anders has said, the actual make up is very different with many appointment going to either serial directors or normal executive managers that are given the title of director to avoid penalties and win governmental favour. This has not in itself caused a problem as the real leaders of the businesses have been retained, with some correct appointments duly given to women. The area it has caused problems are when men have been passed over for board level appointment purely because of the quotas enforced. I have had two of my colleagues leave in response to their career path being curtailed in favour of subordinate women and I myself am now reporting into a female exec who does not have my experience, has to get me to prepare her board papers and freely admits that she is just a statistic. All she really has in her favour is a skjeden, as we say here.

    I am not against women in the work place and my CEO is female and absolutely amazing, but a degree of perspective is required for when we consider the quota system.


    • Hugely interesting comments, but surely getting women on the board is just the first step, they can then climb to more senior posts as part of a longer term development?

  33. Only just seen this, great blog Gary, really interesting subject and some interest conclusions (and controversial comments).

    My beef is that despite the world recognising that mixed boards perform better, business are still not getting to what is a very low and modest percentage of female directors. If they won’t do it voluntarily they need to be forced. If the horse won’t go for the carrot, use the stick!

  34. I find the relocation thing a really interesting dynamic, and an element I hadn’t considered. I am quite sure within the London-centric media it isn’t seen as a major consideration but for those of us aspiring to headier careers it is something to consider. Do you think this element is getting better or worse as the years go by? With so much movement north, surely the opportunities for career advancement up here should open up?

  35. Surely natural selection is there way to go here? If women want to progress, there is nothing stopping them. The location issue us just as big an issue for men, the need to get yourself noticed, and the need to really want it exist equally. Why should we pander to any fringe or perceived fringe to give them the leg up that other don’t get?

    • Richard, you are horrifically out of touch with reality and with the issues facing women who want to progress. I pray you are not a man in an influential position in business.

  36. Really interesting blog and I’m in two minds about where I stand on this. I am currently an MD for a divisional of a listed business, I have had to work hard and make sacrifices to get where I am, but no more than my husband has had to do for his career. We had a child 6 months ago and shared talking time off until 3 weeks ago when he finished his leave. We now have a nanny to cover the time that we are at work.

    I haven’t had any specific assistance to help my career, and haven’t expected any. I get criticisms from other mums because I returned to work after 3 months but it has ensured that my business hasn’t suffered.

    Do I want to climb any higher though? Possibly, but I have no desire to get to main board of our parent group. I love my job, I love my daughter and I love my life. I don’t really want to change any of it.

    If women want what I have got, or more than I have got, go and get it, don’t waste time complaining that it’s not fair.

    • Andrea, well done on your career and perfect life, but really, why have a child if she is being palmed off on a nanny from less than 6 months old? do you REALLY love your daughter or is it just the best accessory to show off over the weekend?

      PLease google work-life balance, then take a fews days off and take your daughter to the local soft play centre to realise your life is shallow.

  37. Good blog. The comments above citing women’s part in their own lack of acension are truly misguided. Women have been at the butt end of the corporate deal for decades and without an iron fist clutching a large stick, it will continue to be the case.

    • I wish I could argue against what you say, but i am drawing the conclusion that you are right. Sadly, the business world will not react until they have to.

  38. I stumbled across this blog, having been recommended to follow you on Twitter by my optician.

    Very well written and researched, and clearly generating a lot of debate. I must confess, I read through the first third of comments and then gave up. There are so many men whose comments reflect what is the key issue – the crux.

    Several comments by women have already touched on this and it is bravely touted by a very small number of male commentators. And the crux is? That our culture is steeped in traditional patriachal practice that is designed to stimy women’s advancement. That is especially true of business practice.

    Meritocracy has been built on concepts of ‘presentee-ism’ and, as you pointed out, for example, the willingness and ability to relocate or work away from home. Who says these traits dictate suitability to lead or contribute to the success of a business at the most senior level? Mostly men!

    Someone mentioned the male ego earlier up the page. This should not be dismissed as trivial or irrelevant. Men with driving ambition to succeed will naturally prefer there to be fewer competitors to the top. How convenient to set the success criteria to fit the male profile, rather than make it GENUINELY gender nutral.

    This is a reflection of my own observations, formed throughout my career of nearly 30 years. The last nine of which have been working in your own line of business – as a headhunter.

  39. Some really interesting comments here. I have resisted the urge to respond to the patronising ones. I’m one of a very small number of female CEOs in the technology industry and have got here mostly by hard work and drive. I am a passionate believer in business success via a mixed board but feel that quotas are not the way forward. What we do need is higher ambition and ‘can-do’ in prospective female leaders/non-execs plus new routes to getting them to put themselves forward with confidence.

  40. Great blog and mature take on a controversial subject. I do agree on a short term supply issue but this is a product of decades of belittlement of female professionals.

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  43. Just seen this blog following your tweet. Staggering statistic and a fascinating comments. What can be done to improve female representation?

  44. Interesting blog. Why are we so hung up on having women on boards? Business has run brillitantly up until 10 years ago, and with minimal interuption from the so called fairer sex. We’ve not brought them in and it’s all gone ‘tits’, literally in some cases.

    In a world that craves a return to old fashioned values, this is one that needs adhering to.

  45. The notion of women in business is all very good and fanciful, but the facts remain that unless the woman has pulled away from the nuclear family model, the women will get compromised, as Lousie Mensch found out as mentioned above, royally dumping her colleagues and constituants. Politics may be able to take that gamble, but business often cannot. We need to ensure we have the best man for the job, and usually that will be a man.

  46. Great impartial blog Gary but a lot of tosh writen in comments. Women are no more different to men, they should be be treated any differently. They are being and it is attitudes like those above that are causing that difference.

  47. Love the blog Gary and you make some interesting points. I do think we need quotas for this and for other areas of chronic underrepresentation, especially sexual orientation, the homophobia that exists in major business really is an issue and should be addresses along side, if not ahead of the Women in Business arguments.

  48. Some of the comments on here are incredible. Why should there be an issue about having 25% female boards, there should be at least 50%? WIth more than 50% of the population being females, why should there not be a similar percentage? or us this the uterus argument?

  49. Great blog Gary and a lot of interest. Certainly a hot topic. I don’t know where I sit on the WIB argument. I’ve worked with and for both. Female peers are fine, introduce more politics but also introduce great innovation. Females bosses are a different matter, I’ve only ever worked for one (you know her) and without doubt the most power crazy unhinged bitch that ever had her own office. I’m sure than is an exception though.

    I guess more women can’t be a bad thing, not sure about quotas.

  50. Love this blog. You hit the nail on the head for me with this and the others pieces you’ve done on this subject, let the best Man (whatever gender) get the job, let business choose which that best person is for they know better than anyone else and let those who think they are the brightest star, shine the brightest.

    To impose quotas is a welfare system for people who haven’t got the ability to be the person they think they are.

  51. Good view point and interesting comments. My take, Women in Business, yes. Women on boards, yes. Quotas, definitely not.

    Very good, well written blog though.

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