Going Backwards? Maybe, For U.K. Gender Diversity In the Boardroom

It gets very boring, the repetition. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu in the media headlines : ‘women’s progress in the boardroom stalls.’ Again. As I said in my last post on gender diversity in the boardroom on Forbes, almost exactly a month ago. If it was a sitcom, it would have been cancelled years ago. But instead, it is very real — with long-term implications for business, and the engagement and trust of the next generation. According to recent research, the U.K.’s largest listed companies have failed to improve gender diversity at senior executive level and may even be “going backwards.”

Women Count 2017 is research just out by The Pipeline, a London-based organization which trains women for senior roles. I have only just realized that I have come across it in the past. This post is inspired by coverage of its research in the Financial Times, rather than direct contact with The Pipeline. But its report shows that it found that women made up only 16 % of executive committees at FTSE 350 companies at mid-April this year — unchanged from the previous year. For female executives with ‘P&L responsibilities’ — often critically regarded by headhunters as what they see as the very ‘grown up’ responsibilities essential for any boardroom role (which immediately limits the potential candidates) — that figure stayed at 6% from 2016.

One could be forgiven for finding this all a bit depressing, given the rise of women in global finance and leadership positions.

Are there no available women — or are they just choosing not to be part of the ‘culture’ that goes with the boardrooms of the U.K.’s listed businesses ? Female entrepreneurs, for example,  are seen as ‘killing it’ on the U.K.’s start-up scene. 

Research just out from Aston University in the U.K. reveals that the proportion of women early-stage entrepreneurs jumped 45% from just before the financial crisis to recent times, 2013-2016. While men were still found twice to be  twice as likely as women to start a business overall, some U.K. regions are seeing a greater balance as women catch up, it says. The U.K. was also found to be above the international league tables for female early-stage entrepreneurship — which makes me wonder if I am right about women choosing to escape established corporate culture as it stands.

What is a girl – or even a woman – to do ?

As I mentioned, I recognized The Pipeline. A closer look revealed that its Chair is Christine Hodgson. I was surprised and delighted to be recognized the other day from an interview I did years ago with her for the Financial Times —at a time when it seemed absurd that she had no non-executive director positions, despite her experience.

‘My gender has never held me back’ she told me in 2013 – and I would say she is determined to ensure that the message resounds.

I met Ms. Hodgson while mingling at the the 2017 Awards Gala Dinner on the 4th of July at the Royal Albert Hall in London for the Responsible Business Awards dispensed by Business In The Community, the charity dedicated to responsible business and headed by HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. I have had no contact with her since that evening.

But because change in business is all about circles of people who make it happen, I am not surprised to find that we have common contacts. Going back to The Pipeline, which heads events  in the U.K. with Margaret McDonagh and Lorna Fitzsimons, I remember covering a London event months ago at which a client — Helen Pitcher, who is Chair of a U.K.-based boardroom consultancy which focuses on creating the best productive dynamic for every boardroom was speaking.

So I called Helen to ask her what she thought about the U.K.’s progress on women in the boardroom, and this is what she said:

“It’s not happening as fast as it might be. Why is that ? One reason is that people don’t think laterally enough about ability. There is a lack of creative thinking about how to fulfill the roles with the right caliber of women. It is, I am afraid, lazy thinking. It means that individuals with bags of potential get overlooked. With the right support and development, they might be a great asset to any business.”

It sounds like intelligent common sense to me. So why are we sliding back, in 2017 ?

Source – Written by Dina Medland as featured in Forbes – https://www.forbes.com/sites/dinamedland/2017/07/11/going-backwards-maybe-for-u-k-gender-diversity-in-the-boardroom/#4b6793c45214

 

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