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Does the UK need quotas to increase the number of women on the boards of firms? Please tell us what you think - and vote in our Facebook poll

(201 Posts)
JaneGMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Nov-12 16:09:48


We'd love to hear your opinions on the idea of quotas to increase the number of women on the boards of UK firms.

In the UK, the proportion of female directors at FTSE 100 companies has risen from 12.5% in 2010 to 15% in 2012.

There's some evidence to suggest that quotas may work; in Norway, where quotas were implemented in 2008, the figure rose from 7% on the boards of listed companies in 2003 to 42% in 2012.

So.... do we need quotas to push this figure closer to 50%? Or is it patronising to suggest that they're needed?

We'd love to hear your thoughts.

And we'd love it even more if you could please vote in our Facebook poll about this - it's a simple yes/no question so it'll only take a mo. And we'd be ever so grateful.

Many thanks,


Tee2072 Tue 13-Nov-12 16:18:30

It's patronising to think they are needed. If women are qualified, they will be appointed. If they're not, they shouldn't be appointed just to have women on the boards. I detect a new HQer? hmm?

BelleCurve Tue 13-Nov-12 16:24:06

Yes, we need quotas. 85% female for the next 20 years. After the men have had 200 years, its our turn.

Otherwise you get appointed handmaidens who still have to fit the male criteria, or look decorative to get the job. We need women setting the criteria for board membership.

I'm actually very serious, as long as women are considered optional, or a minority we will never have any actual power. IIRC correctly when 20% quotas were introduced in France, the response from the Chairmen was "fine, send me some photos"!

JaneGMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Nov-12 16:26:34


It's patronising to think they are needed. If women are qualified, they will be appointed. If they're not, they shouldn't be appointed just to have women on the boards. I detect a new HQer? hmm?

Hello Tee, I've been at MNHQ for a few months but am not let loose on the boards too often <waves>.

Thanks both for your answers.

FoxtrotFoxtrotSierra Tue 13-Nov-12 16:31:24

I agree with Tee2072. It is patronising to suggest they're needed. It also would undermine the position of any woman on a board - they would be open to the suggestion that they only got the role because the company needed X number of women on the board. Moreover, a woman being appointed ahead of a better qualified man to do a job as some window dressing is downright wrong.

Surely addressing why so few women are getting to board level is the issue, rather than fixing the outcome.

Miggsie Tue 13-Nov-12 16:32:26

Sadly I think we do need them - recent surveys show that only countries with quotas are anywhere near equality at board level.

I recently passed some very hard assessment days for a senior management position - and was told I was sucessful, then they found I was disabled and the offer was withdrawn as I was suddenly no longer suitable.

They thought a disabled person just "couldn't do the job" and I suspect that if there was inherent sexism at the company I would have been failed earlier as simply being female. This is inherent prejudice, that had nothing to do with my actual ability.

So I think we do need quotas as interview/assessment systems are riddled with interviewers' preconceptions and prejudices. If they see a woman and have an internal script that women are not really committed then they won't appoint you, no matter how good you are.

Endless studies have been done that show that women and men giving the same interview responses and doing the same presentations are judged differently - women are judged mnore harshly and given less credit (all published in the Harvard Business Review over the years). They have also shown that the same CV submitted under different names - male - female- English sounding name- African sounding name will pass thorugh the process with preference given to: is male and English sounding, then female English, then African Man lastly African female.

It just shows that there is a lot of prejudice and the best candidate won't get the job. The candidate judged most like the people doing the interview will get the job. This is why most big companies are woeful in their gender and ethnic diversity.

Kez100 Tue 13-Nov-12 16:35:08

Let's assume there are equal men and woman capable of the job.

There are, then, a certain number of women (far more than men) who decide at some point what they can earn working another hour or under more stress is not worth it for the cost to the family. So they stop and actively choose not to go higher.

So, for that reason, I would expect there to be less women than men at board level and, no, we should not have quotas.

Tee2072 Tue 13-Nov-12 16:38:07

Welcome Jane! They didn't half give you the hard one, did they? grin

StillSquiffy Tue 13-Nov-12 16:43:53

Why do you want our opinions? genuine qn.

Diversity is the bag I'm into, and I have worked with board of big4 and the like looking at this. Currently writing a book on it. Am interested in whether you are taking this kind of thing further in some way.

TiggyD Tue 13-Nov-12 17:00:10

So you mean if you have interviews pick the women who are not as good as the men.
1. There will be women in charge of men who would have been better at the job than the women. That will be uncomfortable for everybody.
2. When you walk into the board room you would meet men who are good at the job and women who are not as good at the job but are there because they're women. You would then respect the opinions of the men more because they are more likely to be there on merit. A bit tough on the women who are there because they're good at the job.

I do a job where only 2% of workers are the same sex as I am. Quotas would in theory benefit me, but in practice would be terrible.

msrisotto Tue 13-Nov-12 17:01:25

It isn't patronising to think that we need them, didn't you see the percentage of women currently working in board level positions? It's pathetic! The fact is that as a sex, we aren't getting an equal shot at these positions, NOT because we aren't good enough but for some other reason.....

Now, the fact that 'we' are generally strong armed into taking the bulk of childcare responsibility, doesn't mean that we are less qualified or able to do well in responsible roles. The fact that these roles are generally full time, isn't our fault and I don't think it has to be this way. Having quotas could change things. Maybe 2 women would decide to part time job share, maybe this would give men the freedom to do the same. We need to break the mould as it isn't working as it is. Not for men who hardly get to see their kids, and not for women who get forced into jobs below their skill level.

msrisotto Tue 13-Nov-12 17:01:55

So, yeah....I think quotas are the way forward. Progress is TOO SLOW as it is. It isn't fair and I want it to change now.

yummymummytobe1 Tue 13-Nov-12 17:05:06

The position of a person within a company should not be based on their gender but rather their ability.

I would be rather offended if I was given a job, when there was an equally qualified man and the deciding factor being our gender.

BelleCurve Tue 13-Nov-12 17:09:48

Thing is, there is already an "unofficial" quota. 85% of positions are given to men because of their sex.

The decision criteria are weighted in favour of men.

It is just not the case that women are less capable or less qualified.

Also, in terms of seniority, it is actually much easier to be flexible in working practices in many senior roles. We need to be the decision makers, not waiting for the men to change the rules which suit them.

StillSquiffy Tue 13-Nov-12 17:19:43

Comment for the last few posters to ponder:-

How do you define 'equally well qualified' when it comes to Board level? I certainly can't answer that myself, despite being at board level myself, because it is about a whole host of skills that can't always be objectively measured.

Here's an example for you:- two lists of skills:-
1) Team management, ability to manage clients, ability to deliver results, mentoring of staff, effective management skills, strong control principles, stays calm under pressure
2) Rapid decision-making, negotiation skills, networking skills, leadership skills, sales skills, enjoys working under pressure

What happens when you get MEN rating people who are then presented with two people one displaying a set of skills from list (1) and one representing skills from list (2). Here's a clue about what happens: they do not select objectively. Supported time and time again by research.

(By the way, if you don't have a mix of both sets the mgmt team is not diversified and research shows this leads generally to cock-ups. google 'bay of pigs' for more depth on that)

(Another by the way: the skills in (1) are more typically seen in the bell curve of female behaviours, the skills in (2) are more typically seen in the bell curve of male behaviours)

clinkingIceCubes Tue 13-Nov-12 17:22:34

I like the Caitlin Moran view of why quotas are actually a good idea. For some reason Google isn't helping me find a good quote, but i think I read a pithy summary on her last MN webchat so someone could link to that.

See, I wouldn't get on the board due to my laziness in finding that quote.....

but I do think quotas would work

MordionAgenos Tue 13-Nov-12 17:26:10

Squiffy Are you going to the Women in Finance fast track to corporate board positions event on December 7th? I was invited but I can't go - already accepted an invitation to another event (it's that time of year clearly).

Smudging Tue 13-Nov-12 17:27:22

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Justforlaughs Tue 13-Nov-12 17:34:47

I'm against quotas for any reason. Too many people will be accused of getting the job because of the quota rather than because they are the best person for the job. I would rather not get the job in the first place than know that I only got t because I was a woman.

specialmagiclady Tue 13-Nov-12 17:37:19

The position of a person within a company should not be based on their gender but rather their ability.

I would be rather offended if I was given a job, when there was an equally qualified man and the deciding factor being our gender.

I agree. And until this stops being opinion and becomes fact, we need quotas.

specialmagiclady Tue 13-Nov-12 17:37:52

Sorry, the second part is fact, but it's the man that gets it, not the woman.

Ellypoo Tue 13-Nov-12 17:40:34

I totally agree with foxtrotfoxtrotsierra and yummymummytobe1.

I think quotas would weaken the position of women on boards - board members, as with any other employee, should be appointed on merit, not anything else. Otherwise, it is discrimination. If I were to be appointed to a board (incidentally, I am board level), I would want it to be because I had earnt it, not because there was a quota.

That said though, my thoughts are obviously based in an ideal world, not the real, corporate world, and this obviously isn't how it works. But it should be.

Not hugely helpful, but I don't think forcing quotas are a great idea. I know something needs to be done to break the 'old school ties' and 'old boy network' that seems to be the norm on corporate boards, but I don't necessarily think that quotas are the answer.

Study after study have shown that the most effective and successful boards have a decent mixture of people and genders.

StillSquiffy Tue 13-Nov-12 17:44:05

Mordion: Ruth Sealy is quite an interesting speaker but I am not at all convinced by the 'Cranfield' approach that I have seen at the three similar seminars that I have attended over the last few years (and which I think will be the dominant one). I suspect the session will focus on what women should think about doing 'better' in order to make the same impact as men when it comes to shining in front of the board decision-makers.

Here's what I think will happen: There will be a chat about networking and how to use networks politically instead of emotionally. Then they'll talk about selling yourself up instead of down. Then they'll talk about showcasing your skills effectively and making sure other people know who you are and sell you (especially if you are in a field where you can 'publish' things. They may even wander into how to steer yourself into the board roles that men are more comfortable seeing the women go into (HR, Finance, Legal). Finally they will tell you to over-aim, rather than under-aim and to most definitely not be put off by rejection.

And at each of those points I would be frothing at the bit, because I am so against that type of approach it makes me frankly furious that otherwise intelligent people buy into a concept where they look at the gender imbalance and try to change the victim, rather than the underlying problem.

If anyone does attend the event on the 7th, I would love to know how close I get with my predictions.

MordionAgenos Tue 13-Nov-12 17:44:20

We definitely need quotas. I am beyond fed up of being the only woman in a room of 15-20 men. Most of whom are not only less well qualified to be there than me but less well qualified than other women I know who could be there and should be there but aren't.

HeathRobinson Tue 13-Nov-12 17:46:27

Yes, we need quotas.

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