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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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

FannyPriceless Wed 01-May-13 21:50:23


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.

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