The good news: Britain’s top 100 companies have made huge progress on gender diversity by doubling the number of female directors on their boards since 2011. According to the recent Davies Review, 26% of FTSE 100 board members are now women, meeting the voluntary 25% gender diversity target set by the government.
The bad news? The only way for this progress to evolve into a sustainable shift towards male / female equilibrium on UK Boards over the next 30 years is for firms to attract and nurture a pipeline of quality female candidates that will grow into future senior managers and board members. Not rocket science, I agree. However, the jump from theory to reality is a daunting and perilous journey for many firms.
Firstly, it’s important to address one point; it is quite possible that firms will achieve their 30% targets by simply finding the best female talent they can and appointing it to the board. The qualification here is that it’s the best female talent available, not necessarily the best all round talent available. Our best female leaders are the most vocal on this point; board members must be appointed on merit, not because they are female (or male, for that matter). If we arrive at the situation, in 10 years’ time, that the weakest members of boards are generally perceived as the female members then, eventually, a sceptical business community will allow the great diversity conversation to wither to a whisper.
What to do then? Many firms in financial services, for example, have made great efforts to attract an equal or larger number of female candidates into their graduate schemes. Simple theory here (again not, rocket science; please bear with me) is that if you put more 21/22 year olds females into the bank, you will eventually have more 50 year olds (hmmm – do they have to wait to aged 50?) available to join the board. This is the long game and will, without doubt, have some positive effect on the talent female pool in 30 years’ time. However, investment banks in particular still have huge challenges in attracting (and keeping) female talent to their Analyst programmes mainly due to the perception, and reality, of the investment banking culture (often seen as a macho, long hours, culture) that still persists. There are a few theories about why female graduates are not attracted to a long hours culture; personally I’m sure it is not an aversion to hard work, but because they recognise that the rewards for working 18 hour days are not equitable any more, and whereas many young males still see the, sometimes macho, investment banking culture as an ‘exclusive club’; the harder it is, the more they want to be part of it, without sitting down to work out that they are actually being paid not far off the minimum wage for the 18 hours a day, 7 days a week they are in the office.
But, and it’s a big but, what do we do between now and 25/30 years’ time? We can pinch top female talent from our competitors but, unfortunately, this is a vicious circle as, eventually, our competitors will target us back and pinch our top female talent and we’ll be back to square one, so, whilst it is a vital part of the strategy, it can’t be our only strategy.
So, I here you say, you have told us lots of things we knew already, what is the solution to attracting and retaining enough female talent to give us this talent pool to get to male/female board equilibrium before 2046?
Food for thought:
The above are simply food for thought and, I’m sure, many of you can come up with numerous pitfalls as to why they won’t work; historically we have been very good at that.
The bottom line is, if we don’t think outside the box I believe we are doomed to fail.
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