The excuses given by FTSE 350 companies for the lack of women on their boards are, as reported by the Guardian ‘pitiful and patronising’.
We’ve been thinking about this and one thing that came to mind was a total lack of leadership from people running these boards. Some of the qualities we associate with leadership are risk-taking, inspiration, asking questions, creating change, leading by example and showing a vision.

One thing that strikes us is that boards are probably run in quite an old-fashioned way and that suits the pale, male and stale stereotype. Doing an audit of how a board is run and what is needed for that sector in the 21st century might be a good starting point. Are they applying the same rigour and innovation to their boardroom as they do to their business as a whole? Words like ‘complex’, ‘hassle’ and ‘pressure’ suggest quite a dysfunctional way of working. If a senior manager in their organisation used those excuses for not doing something that has been proven to be more profitable, more effective and for which there are government targets they would probably be sacked.

Let’s just examine these ten pearls of boardroom wisdom:
“I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment.”
Do all men fit comfortably into the environment has it been designed for a stereotypical man? You created the environment – is it fit for purpose? You’re basically excluding the views of women within your organisation who will also represent the views of your clients and customers.

“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.”
What are ‘credentials’? Capability, profile, network?
Surely breadth of experience would bring additional viewpoints. Women would bring that breadth.
Women deal just as well with complexity; they’re usually running the home and a career at the same time!
Does it need to be complex?

“Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”
Have you asked them?
Why is it a hassle or pressured? Do men want the hassle and pressure? Surely it can updated and improved?

“Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?”
Do you always just do what your shareholders tell you?
Have you asked them?
How many of them are women?

“My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”
Why not?
Surely part of your role is to influence and persuade rather than accept the status quo?

“All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”
What would you do if all the ‘good’ men had been snapped up?
Look harder; look for potential look for the skills your board needs.

“We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn”
How many men do you have again? By someone else’s turn you mean another man?

“There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were I would think about appointing a woman”
If it is difficult to find a women then be proactive about finding potential candidates, presumably another position won’t have to wait until someone dies.

“We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector”
What are you doing about your female pipeline and when will that pull through to board level?
Why aren’t there enough women in your sector?
What can you do to attract more women to your company and lead the way for the sector?
Bring in women from another sector, you will gain insight and different experience.

“I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to”
Why not? Do you really want to?
We talk to a lot of businesses, different sectors, different sizes and different stages of evolution. Everybody is concerned with making sure their businesses are future-proofed, getting the best from their people and attracting and retaining the best talent. At a conference on the future of work we attended last year one speaker bemoaned the lack of leadership skills across the board in business and hypothesised that a 3D-printed leader would be more effective.
These boardrooms sound devoid of leadership, similarly as pointed out by Sir Philip Hampton “…leaders expressing warm words of support but actually doing very little to appoint women into top jobs – or quietly blocking progress – are really not much better.”
So as a business, whether or not you think you have a problem, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the percentage of women at all levels within your business?
  • When are you losing women? (e.g. do they return from maternity)
  • Do you have a talent pipeline and specifically for women?
  • What provision do you have for flexible working?
  • Do you have a returners policy?
  • Are there sufficient female role models within your organisation?
  • Do you provide mentoring and/or sponsorship?
  • What leadership qualities are valued and rewarded?
  • What training and development do you offer at all career stages?
  • Does your culture give everyone the same support and opportunity?

We know it’s just women that care about about this, plenty of men do, and ‘millennials’ have a very different expectation of the workplace.
Need some help to actually make some changes rather than just talking about it? We’re ready.

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