Should companies be forced to have more women on their boards?

(52 Posts)
HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 01-May-13 15:23:46


We were fascinated to see Vince Cable, Business Secretary, saying in his Mumsnet webchat today that he's taking steps to tackle companies who don't have women on their boards.

Vince posted: "We're making a lot of progress on implementing the recommendations for significantly higher levels of female representation on company boards. The numbers are better and we're on track to meet the 25% target by 2015.

"I'm chasing up companies which have women-free boards and had a leading mining company chief executive in my office just this week, answering my questions as to why they hadn't made more progress.

"There are genuine issues about long-term executive pipelines for women which we're tackling through shared parental leave, amongst other policies."

What do you think? Why are there, apparently, still so many barriers to women at board level? Should there be more positive discrimination for women - even measures to force companies to recruit women to their board? Are there enough women aiming to get onto the board of a big company - and, if not, why not? If you are already on a board, what's it like and would you recommend it to other women?

We'd love to know your thoughts...

WouldBeHarrietVane Wed 01-May-13 15:52:01

Mr Cable could ask the lawyers' regulator, the SRA, why there are so few female partners in law firms and on the management board of law firms.

Underherthumb Wed 01-May-13 16:36:20

As a male and on a board I may have a different perspective.

Our first female board member was promoted in 2011 and - beyond the direct experience and knowledge required for the position - there have been two main advantages.

1) Testosterone. It's used in many a joke but it can cloud thinking at important times. In one case of note for us, we had a business disagreement with another company that got a little nasty. We ended up attempting to find a constructive way forward rather than abandoning the relationship altogether but there was a good deal of clouded thinking before we settled on our course of action. I would attribute much of that decision to the perspective of our female board members.

My guess is that in more high pressure positions this type of problem would happen more often.

2) HR. It will come as no surprise that men often are genuinely baffled by women. When your workforce is equally composed of both sexes there are many subtle - but real - advantages to having representation at the board. In our case, everything from company policy on maternity, paid time for family emergencies to the floorplan of new office space benefited from a board of both sexes.

These things seem small but they are not. Decisions at every board meeting affects the future of the company and the morale of the employees.

Having said all that, I am not in favour of positive discrimination. At the end of the day, positive discrimination in favour of one sex, colour or age group is simply legalizing negative discrimination against others. Employment at any level should be based solely on ability to do the job.

I spoke recently to a small business owner in Arizona who was struggling with the recession and sadly had to let a member of staff go. Following performance reviews and other regulatory requirements the decision was made to release an employee who happened to be of african-american origin. Unfortunately, this would bring the ratio of coloured employees below that required by state law for small enterprise. A 'better' employee could not reasonably be released so the owner shut down completely and started a separate company in it's place. An extreme example of what was intended as positive discrimination but... 'be careful what you wish for'.

In my opinion we ought to look at ways to deal with negative discrimination/glass ceilings directly. A good start would be to compare the number of female employees to the number of female board members. There can't be that many professions where a suitable candidate(s) can't be promoted from within to ensure representation at the board.

meglet Wed 01-May-13 17:01:06


Companies should be forced to offer flexible working for new parents and fathers should also be expected to adjust their hours when they become a parent so the burden of career-grinding stay at home parenthood no longer falls automatically on the mother.

Allowing women to continue to work when their children are young will make it far easier for them to progress up the career ladder. You don't need quotas if women have been allowed to progress up naturally.

yousankmybattleship Wed 01-May-13 17:20:03

No. Boards should be free to appoint as they see fit. I agree that both men and women should be better supported in their work-life balance though.

BasilBabyEater Wed 01-May-13 17:24:55


Men already have positive discrimination, they've been the beneficiaries of it for millenia and they don't notice, they actually delude themselves that they got there on merit. Giving women board positions would merely give them the same advantages men already have. Having said that, that can only be a temporary solution, Meglet is also right, the workplace structures need to be altered so that women can function in them as easily as men can.

lisaro Wed 01-May-13 17:45:38

No, absolutely not. What if they hadn't filled their 'quota' but were forced to take someone totally unsuitable. I work in what's percieved to be a male profession. I would resent people assuming I had got to the position Iam in to fulfil a quota. It's discriminatory and divisive, and would cause untold resentment. Realistically it would be counter productive.
And as for the poster upthread who thinks that companies should be forced to offer flexible working to new parents - I suggest that you visit the real world.

BasilBabyEater Wed 01-May-13 17:51:24

Men never worry about or apologise for the fact that other people might think they only got to their position because having a penis gave them systematic advantages over those people who have different genitalia. White people are entirely untroubled if everyone thinks they got their job because of the advantage their skin-colour confers on them.

It's only the disadvantaged group who are expected to apologise when the field is levelled a bit, because taking away male or white advantage, is seen in terms of disadvantaging the privileged group. The notion that they are entitled to this unfair disadvantage is so strong, that levelling the playing field is seen as unfair.

Tee2072 Wed 01-May-13 17:55:36

No. If a women is right for the position, she should get it because she's right for the position, not because she has tits and ovaries.

GoblinGranny Wed 01-May-13 18:05:33

No, but there should be an independent panel of women like Basil to scrutinise the appointments process in each case where the other aspects, qualifications, experience etc were equal. You should be able to justify an appointment to independent judges, and have evidence to back it up.

Fozziebearmum2b Wed 01-May-13 18:20:17

Whilst I'm generally not in favour of positive discrimination (women will be judged as being the 'token' women and not due to merit) I do think something drastic needs to change.

I work for a large global organisation and find that only men or women without children are judged as being fit for the high powered roles. Mainly due to women with children wanting to work part-time (and only lower graded roles allowing for part time working) and that lots of travel and time away from home comes hand in hand with the role (again women deselect themselves through choice).

If we operated positive discrim and put women with children in these positions (and truly respected part time working and travel restrictions) then they would be forced to change the company/UK culture. So I am in favour of something drastic as this is the only way of us moving this issue forward.

elQuintoConyo Wed 01-May-13 18:48:02

No, of course not. The best person for the job should be on the board, whatever they have between their legs.


Sam100 Wed 01-May-13 19:23:31

No i do not think there should be a quota for women on the board. But I do think it would help if boards were forced to interview a certain number of women for the roles to open up their eyes to candidates that they may not have considered in other circumstances. Sometimes the biggest barrier to entry is just being considered a candidate in the first place - once in the pool of candidates we can get on with the rest of it on merit!

SuiGeneris Wed 01-May-13 19:30:49

Yes and no.

Yes, companies need to be pushed to consider candidates from outside their usual hunting grounds for board members, but I do not think there should be long-term quotas, for the reasons described above.

Perhaps a workable solution could be a "comply or explain" system where companies would have to have x per cent of women on their boards or explain (in some detail) in their annual statement, why not. We could also have a system where shortlists would have to have a certain percentage of women and, perhaps, a (short-term) preference for women candidates, other things being equal.

AnnaDL Wed 01-May-13 21:08:02


I am the only female on the board at the company where I work. I would have no respect whatsoever if people perceived my appointment as a quota filling exercise. That's just bad for women in the workplace at all levels.

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen Wed 01-May-13 21:22:24

More needs to be done but I am in favour of ensuring all board appointments have at least one woman on the candidate list rather than straight quotas.

I sit on the board of 3 SMEs through my job in investment (despite being part time). I know that when many companies recruit non-exec directors they look first to their network, which is usually predominantly male in my sector. Forcing female shortlisting would make companies look more widely and increase the chances of appointing a woman.

I also think large corporates could play a role in developing woman to board level. If they released senior woman to serve as non-execs on smaller companies, as continuing development/training, they would develop their own staff and build skills internally as well as supporting smaller, growing organisations.


We have been waiting long enough for it to happen without it. There are currently no consequences to a company that continues to blindly go on without giving a damn about seeking women for board level.

I have sat on boards with men who never gave a moment's thought to whether they 'deserved to be there on merit' or not - and frankly some of them did not.

I am absolutley convinced that there need to be some consequences for larger companies. Quotas are not appropriate for smaller companies, but there should be stepped consequences for larger companies to demonstrate what they are doing to address this appalling situation.

Treats Wed 01-May-13 22:31:45

I think companies without women on the board should be challenged as to why that is. if it's because they don't have women in the 'pipeline' why is that? At what stage in the typical career path do the women start to drop out and why?

I think requiring companies to investigate and address the causes of inequality in the whole organisation will have a more beneficial effect for more women, and - ultimately - should naturally lead to better representation at board level without the implication that token women are being appointed.

I also think that it would be a better first step rather than imposing a quota - backed up with the threat that quotas will follow if companies don't make a proper effort to work out how they're discriminating against women.

NonnoMum Wed 01-May-13 22:43:03

Not about companies but what would people feel about a girls' school having a male head and two male deputies.
Girl power, eh?

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 01-May-13 23:00:57

Nosleep, good post.

CoolStoryBro Thu 02-May-13 02:15:42

It takes a huge sacrifice, on every level, to get to board level in a major corporation. Just as it does to start your own company. Or choose to go part time. Or give up work altogether to stay at home with your kids.

For me, that goes for both men and women. I'm a bit bored of women using their gender as an excuse.

Numberlock Thu 02-May-13 07:00:04

men are genuinely baffled by women

That's got to be the most ridiculous thing I've read for a long time. And from a board member too. Depressing.

Mapal Thu 02-May-13 07:03:40

I'm a bit bored of women using their gender as an excuse.

What do you think the reason for the disparity is then? And how do you think it can be overcome?

Numberlock Thu 02-May-13 08:15:40

And I'm a bit bored of the daily sexism I encounter at work.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 02-May-13 08:22:23

Me, I'm a bit bored of being the only woman in the room at industry events.

Numberlock Thu 02-May-13 08:39:21

... and the only woman on business flights, the only woman with children on a board of 12...

No from me too. But I do agree we need better awareness and some kind of auditing that the right decisions are being made ( or looking beyond networks to employ, ensuring better provisions for working mums). These all build up into a fog of issues, so there's no point in putting a sticking plaster over the most obvious crack.

VillaVillekulla Thu 02-May-13 09:08:12

Yes. The argument that women should get there on merit implies that all the old, white men who currently populate the majority of boards in the country got there on merit and that the fact that there are so few women is that women are somehow short on merit.
Or could it be that they're old boys clubs who appoint their mates and shut women and ethnic minorities out? Could it be that an intervention like quotas is needed in order to change the existing men-only culture?

ItsYonliMe Thu 02-May-13 09:39:57

No. It should be the right person for the job, certainly not positive discrimination. That does no-one any favours.

BasilBabyEater Thu 02-May-13 09:50:21

"I'm a bit bored of women using their gender as an excuse."

What that means is, "I'm a bit bored of women pretending that the only reason they don't get do as well in life as men is because of systemic sexism, when everyone knows it's purely and simply because they're inferior to men."

That's what that means.

Some of these posts have really made me laugh - the sexist notion that you wouldn't have respect for a woman on the board if she got there by quota, but you're perfectly happy to respect a man who has got there because he's had an inbuilt advantage (maleness) to enable him to get there. This thing of jobs should not be given because of what's between your legs - but they already are! Men make it to the top more than women do, purely and simply because every single structure and practice from the time they are born to the time they die, advantages them unfairly in comparison to women. If you don't believe that, then you're with Coolstorybro and basically, you just think that women are probably shit and men are simply superior. Lots of people think that deep down, but aren't really aware of thinking it because it's never phrased outright like that, it's just implied.

Creeping Thu 02-May-13 10:04:34

Something needs to happen or we'll be having this discussion in 50 years time still. Positive discrimination as a policy has been in the offing since the 80s. We're 30 years on talking about it and nothing much has changed.

People that think that "the best person for the job" is some sort of objective value-free criterium are deluded.

ItsYonliMe Thu 02-May-13 12:01:07

Well as a female in one of the rather low tier jobs in a male dominated industry (are you still with me?) I can tell you that I witness women getting off with unbelievable business and personal weaknesses, because they are women.

Of course there are men who are absolutely shit at their jobs too, but that is often recognised and usually dealt with.

I'm speaking from personal experience and I think it will be a terrible day if we have to have a quota of genders in management.

ItsYonliMe Thu 02-May-13 12:04:09

Creeping - just to want positive discrimination, so you want women because they are women, black people because they are black people, blind people because they are blind people, tall people because they are tall people.

Is that what you want?

Creeping Thu 02-May-13 12:28:47

I don't believe that any company would appoint somebody in a position if they thought they couldn't do the job, whether male/female, black/white able/disabled. Also it is not often the case that there is only one suitable candidate for a position. I think quota would force companies to actively consider female/black/disabled candidates who would otherwise be dismissed too easily, unconsciously for the wrong reasons. I wouldn't want people appointed solely for being black/female/disabled, but I doubt that that is what would happen anyway. They would have to be able to do the job. Thing is, often when somebody who is not able to do their job (it happens) the ones that are black/female/disabled suddenly become representative of their group, and taken as a reason why hiring somebody black/female/disabled doesn't work. When men don't succeed, there is no such sentiment. They happily employ the next man, without giving it a second thought.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 02-May-13 14:10:03

ItsYoni, I'm curious - id that in multiple companies or just your current employer?

If the employer is not providing eg guidance, training, warnings where necessary to women as well as men, why is that? It does nobody any favours, including the women if there was something they could do to improve.

Lottapianos Thu 02-May-13 14:20:50

Yes (slightly reluctantly)

It would be lovely if we could trust that everyone would get into positions of power solely on merit but it just doesn't happen that way. Take a long hard look at our dear Government for example. I think the only way that things will start to change for women in the workplace is if there are more women around. I think it's also essential that parents are able to share the majority of maternity/paternity leave between them - the only way some people will be convinced that maternity leave is not just an extended holiday is if men start to take similar amounts of time off for parenting reasons.

EATmum Thu 02-May-13 14:33:22

I work in a senior management role in a team that is extremely well gender-balanced. Gender is really not a factor, and that reflects the fact that the middle management team is also well-balanced.
I personally think that the root to the problem is the cost of childcare, and that the govt should focus their efforts there rather than quotas for senior roles. If capable people take themselves out of the workplace not through choice, but because they can't afford to work, they won't get the opportunity to build the networks, and gain the experience and qualifications, that help to progress to board level. Sexism may still exist, but if there is a balanced pool of candidates (not enforced inclusions in the shortlist) it is harder for people to justify a discriminatory decision.
Before I'm flamed, I'm not at all making comment on men or women who choose to raise families - I'm just aware of many people who stop working because they can't afford the costs of working - childcare, train/bus fares, other expenses.
My organisation pays a contribution to childcare costs for all staff with children under age 5.

JollyPurpleGiant Thu 02-May-13 16:36:20

No no no. I really hate positive discrimination.

Companies should make it easier to be a woman and have a high level job. With flexible working, better childcare options etc. (Availablebto all, not just women). Then the situation would sort itself out.

Creeping Thu 02-May-13 16:46:40

EATmum, I wouldn't flame you. Your examples shows how it should be. In a gender balanced environment, from bottom to top, the need for positive action will disappear.

But how do we get there?

I can't see it happening in the next 50 years, perhaps a hundred years, if it continues at the rate is does now. While I agree with you that childcare has a lot to do with it, I don't see the political will to make drastic changes there either. So we'll need other strategies to make it happen.

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen Thu 02-May-13 20:02:54

The problem with addressing the issue through childcare/flexible working (although obviously that needs addressing) is the lag period. If most boards (in my experience) are predominantly staffed with males of 50 plus, how long would it take women (once the flexible working and childcare is sorted) to catch up?

There needs to be more positive action in some way to make Boards look beyond their normal network sooner when recruiting.

Numberlock Thu 02-May-13 21:24:34

Why's it the company's or government's responsibility to make childcare easier? In my experience its the men that I'm in direct competition with who refuse to play an active role in bringing up their own kids that cause the problem. Childcare issues are irrelevant, they never do any.

edam Thu 02-May-13 23:04:47

I think quotas are necessary because asking nicely and pointing out the facts just does not work.

You still get people - women, even - saying 'oh, I'm opposed to quotas because appointments should be on merit'. Missing the point so badly! Appointments are not on merit now, clearly - unless you believe all women are thicker than all men - and the only way to redress that seems to be quotas. Without them, we'll be waiting another 100 years for parity and our granddaughters will probably still be fighting for a fair chance.

edam Thu 02-May-13 23:06:43

(And numberlock has a point, I know families where the high-flying career Daddy has never, ever, looked after his children on his own - if his wife is ever out or away he gets his Mum down to 'help out'. Pathetic. Yet someone is paying this guy a six-figure salary and, according to financial pages, a very hefty bonus - yet he's incapable of managing a toddler and two small children, apparently.)

MoreBeta Thu 02-May-13 23:44:11

I used to think that quotas for women on Boards was a bad idea because I thought that the sex discrimination laws we have would allow more women to rise on merit to the very top.

That very clearly has not happened and I was wrong and I now strongly believe we need quotas. I am a man and reported directly into board members in my last job. My DW also regularly advised boards of multinationals. I can tell you that the reason women don't get on the board is because MEN stop them and not because women aren,t up to the job or don't want it. It is very simple. Men at the top routinely discriminate against women and promote other men who are friends and associates. I've seen it happen and it is absolutely blatant.

Sorry but it is true and it is MEN who promote other useless MEN onto boards instead of promoting women who are better qualified.

I know 3 women trying to get non executive positions in the hope that they might eventually get enough experience to take full executive positions. They always get turned down because a MAN gets chosen who already has a board position.

We need quotas. There is obviously a quota for men which means 90% of board seats have to be filled by a MAN - why can't it just be a 50:50 quota instead of 90:10?

MoreBeta Thu 02-May-13 23:50:44

By the are not baffled by women. The truth is that some men just hate women and if one of those men is at the top of an organisation no women will get to the board. Simple as that. It only takes one 'woman hating man' to black ball a potential female board candidate.

I really do want people to stop making excuses about this.

msrisotto Fri 03-May-13 06:24:54

Yes because it isn't changing of its own accord and frankly, I don't want to wait a millennia for equality. As has been said before, men have benefitted from discrimination for a very long time.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Fri 03-May-13 06:59:27

Exactly, Numberlock, exactly.

Numberlock Fri 03-May-13 07:26:20

So what's the answer, Doctrine?

Do the wives of these types have to take some responsibility for enabling this unlimited access to work problem which, let's face it is the real issue?

Because I can't see any incentive or motivation for these men to change of their own volition.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Fri 03-May-13 07:49:28

I don't think there is one, Numberlock.

As society evolves, maybe there will be more women with SAHD partners who act the same, or more of those men we are seeing will have partners with equal careers and will be sorting childcare half the week.

As labour evolves, maybe men and women working flexibly will be more accepted "at the top".

I do think NED roles are a good place to start on boards as they are automatically part time so some of the issues are covered that way.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Fri 03-May-13 07:56:42

Responsibility is wrong - acknowledgement, maybe. But the men in question should also acknowledge their benefit, I think.

Financially speaking, there's a point on the returns graph of childcare costs, long term prospective earnings of both partners, one vs two tax bands etc etc where having one partner SAH is an economically rational choice.

Creeping Fri 03-May-13 09:53:00

"As society evolves", "as labour evolves"
At a snail's pace.

Men are not going to address their privilege unless they are aware of their privilege. Which the majority isn't, and they continue to hire in their own image. Many think they got where they are by merit only, even when they are all for equality. I think even the majority of women are not aware of their inferior position in society, or think it doesn't apply to them as they have "chosen" their smaller career. Feminists (m/f) are only a minority.

If we have to wait for society "to evolve" without intervention we'll have to wait a long time for equality. It is simple really, if we are serious about equality there will have to be more drastic measures.

HairyLittleCarrot Fri 03-May-13 10:59:01

Perhaps there should be substantial fines levied against large companies who are failing to promote women to board or senior positions.
Proceeds from fines to be diverted into family friendly programmes, childcare facilities, flexible and part time working schemes.
Fines could be progressively increased year on year if the imbalance isn't addressed. And reduced if companies actually provide evidence of their own investment and commitment to such programmes.

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