There isn’t just a glass ceiling stopping women from reaching the giddy heights of the company board, but a “veritable labyrinth”, an expert on women on boards has declared.
Men are five times more likely to be promoted than women at work, who face blockages to promotion at every point of their career, Professor Susan Vinnicombe OBE, a member of Lord Davies of Abersoch’s steering committee on ‘Women on boards’, has said.
The topic of female representation on boards was up for discussion at a fringe event at Conservative conference. A veritable panel of experts gathered, including founder of the 30% Club Helena Morrissey, minister for women and equalities, Helen Grant and Helen Brand OBE, chief executive of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
At present only 17.3 per cent of the board members of FTSE 100 companies are women. This is up from 12.5 per cent in 2010.
Although all speakers pushed for the need for greater diversity on boards, there was consensus that quotas or enforced regulation is not the right way to go about increasing the number of women at board level.
Grant called quotas “demeaning to women”, and able to treat the symptoms but “not the cause”.
Editor of the London Evening Standard, Sarah Sands, said rather than introducing quotas companies with a low level of female directors should be “named and shamed”.
While, Marina Yannakoudakis, said she believes quotas patronise women.
“I would hate to see trophy women.
“I want to talk about the ability of a person, not their gender”.
MP Harriet Baldwin, who previously worked as a director at JP Morgan, said she would “never” vote for an imposition of quotas to increase the number of women on boards.
Instead, what she said companies should be focussing on is “building the pipeline”.
Baldwin outlined her support for Lord Davies' report into 'Women on boards', but called for more to be done in terms of opening companies up from the bottom.
Ms Morrissey, founder of the 30% Club, which she founded in order to get that proportion of women into Britain’s boardrooms by 2015, agreed that a chief operating or financial officer cannot be created over night, as it takes years of expertise to reach such a level.
She maintained that ensuring more women at board level is about “creating sustainable” change, and a business environment where “women want to stay”.
The lone male voice on the panel, Stephen Haddrill, chief executive of the Financial Reporting Council said he found it “quite extraordinary” that we are still having such a discussion in the present day.
“We are going to lose out unless people at the beginning of their careers see people at the top of the organisation that they want to follow”, he said.
Whilst Ms Brand highlighted the positive effect a more diverse board can have on a company.
“Greater diversity can create better decision making, greater innovation, creativity and less groupthink”, she said.
Dr Sheila Lawlor the director of Politeia agreed that it is not just about “girls-versus boys”, but the wider diversity of a board.