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All aboard

Meredith Hurst Friday, February 25, 2011

Despite advances in equality and diversity over the last 30 years, women are still under-represented at board level, a new report by Lord Davies suggests. In its report, the government has revealed the disparity between male and female decision makers and explores the reasons why such inequality should exist at the highest level. The report is based upon hard statistics as draws upon case studies from around the world.  It also seeks to bolster female equality by emphasising the benefits that women can bring to the boardroom debate.

Lord Davies began his independent review into gender equality in August 2010 and the report was published yesterday.

Rather alarmingly the report found that in 2010 women made up only 12.5% of the top 100 directors of listed companies. It is refreshing to note that the report promotes female involvement not for the sake of equality alone but more importantly because of the enhanced business performance that woman bring to the table. The report suggests that women can offer different skills, perspectives and experiences and provide a well-rounded view that all-male boards are unable to.

To this extent the report pushes a sound business case for gender diversity. Some may argue that quotas should be imposed to enforce equality and that the business case argument is a sop to the anti-equality brigade but the emphasis of the report is not to undermine women. Rather it is to highlight the positive aspects of gender equality so that female involvement becomes an essential, rather than a desirable facet of boardroom decision making. Is it not better to promote female equality in recognition of the skills that women can offer rather than as a quota driven lip-service exercise?

The report outlines four aspects of the business case for gender diversity in the boardroom:

  • Improving performance: female directors prepare more meticulously for meetings and bring different views to debates avoiding an assumptive and group mentality.
  • Accessing talent: the majority of university graduates are now female and comprise almost 50% of theUKworkforce.
  • Market knowledge: women make the majority of purchasing decisions in the home and hold almost 50% of theUK's wealth. This means that they can provide a better understanding of consumer demand.
  • Corporate governance: diversity naturally creates a more balanced business strategy for the benefit of employees and generates wider social responsibility.

In the twenty-first century where the rights of women are at the forefront it is of concern to find that women are still so under-represented at senior level. We can but hope that the report will generate a sea change. Click here to read the report.