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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,


MordionAgenos Tue 13-Nov-12 17:52:07

Squiffy I don't have a problem with overaiming - one of my most overused phrases is 'let's live a little'. And I don't have a problem with showcasing one's skills to their best advantage, whether that is to showcase them in an absolute way or showcase them in a relative way (this is why what I do well would benefit you event if you might not realise this at first). But other than that I agree with you - it's all very let's play by their rules so they let us into their game. Something I really don't believe in and have never done. But I am completely and utterly fine with quotas. That is how we might change the game rather than twiddle with the rules.

wishingchair Tue 13-Nov-12 18:00:46

Quotas would only work if they are meaningful. So it needs to be a lot more than x% of the board need to be women, otherwise you'll just get token women in nonsense specially created "board" level positions and they still won't be in the highest paid, most strategic roles.

I would want to be appointed on merit and the value I can bring to the team.

Plus as the Tory party have discovered, you need to have a well-stocked pipeline before you can start meeting the quota you have set yourself. If a company has not developed its female employees, and there are no board-ready women, a quota is going to be pointless. The worst thing would be to appoint a woman to the board who wasn't ready simply because they had to, and for her to fail.

We have targets of the number of people in middle and senior level positions and who is being promoted into those positions. We monitor that by gender, and in the US by race. That gives a good indication of the state of your future talent pipeline, and where you need to focus your attention as a Company.

drcrab Tue 13-Nov-12 18:19:59

What wishingchair said.

FrillyMilly Tue 13-Nov-12 18:24:26

I agree that it could undermine a woman position on a board but what alternative do we have? How do we get more women on the board without the quotas? There are endless studies but nothing gets done. We get the boards 50/50 and show everyone how well it works and how women can parent and run companies just as well as all the dads who have been doing it all these years.

I work for a FTSE 100 company that is male dominated. The old fashioned attitude I come across every day is ridiculous. I have openly said my career goal is to be a director but people assume I'm joking. We need to make it clear that women can and do want a career not a part time job because we can't afford to stay at home. Its assumed women dont want to or cant be high up in a company because they have child commitments. With all the technology available to us I don't see why it's not possible to do both, for both men and women.

wanderingalbatross Tue 13-Nov-12 18:28:49

In Norway, quotas worked to do what? It's not really a surprise that the number of female board members rose after quotas were introduced, but how much has the perception of women shifted? Would the numbers stay high of quotas were removed?

That said, I bet that many men are currently selected for top positions because of their gender. Would love to hear alternatives to quotas though - are there any other ideas?

MrsMargoLeadbetter Tue 13-Nov-12 18:35:10

We need quotas, all the noise about equality to date hasn't worked. I fail to see what choice we have.

As Wishingchair says it isn't just about leaving a % of seats open for women. There needs to be support to help move 'board ready' women onto boards now and to support the talent pipeline. And there needs to be an acceptance that new approaches to board development/recruitment might be needed. Despite lots of talk of Good Governance, I am sure that a good % of board recruitment is through the old boy network.

I have respect for which is trying to persuade the largest companies to voluntarily increase females on their board, I just don't think it is enough.

NorthernNumpty Tue 13-Nov-12 18:37:30

I don't agree with quotas. The best person for the job should get the job. What needs to change is the perception and criteria for who is the best person for the job. There are too many outdated attitudes out there about what makes the 'right' person. Those attitudes inevitably favour men.

MainlyMaynie Tue 13-Nov-12 18:39:35

A bit simpler than quotas, but we live abroad and when DH applied for a job here it was a requirement that one of his referees be female. I thought that was a pretty good, quick and simple way of starting to make some inroads into old boys networks.

I think there could be problems with quotas, you just have to look at the imposition of all-women shortlists to see you have to be very careful not to create other issues.

LadyStark Tue 13-Nov-12 18:46:04

Ooh is this for a panel Justine is on soon? DP going to event and I think is involved in some way.

What I would really like to see is more female CEOs, there are now just two women who are CEOs of FTSE100 companies.

I'm really torn, I'm pro quotas as I can't see it changing without them. I also share concerns about perception of women who've got the job just because they're women.

I also think whilst it is all well and good to look at FTSE CEOs actually pipeline is crucial. Why does the talent pool shrink? (women having children) and how can we prevent this having such a huge impact? Looking at challenges earlier in someone's career is really important.

I went to an event on this recently hosted by Politeia which was fascinating - one of the other things that came from this was the rate at which women start businesses, far fewer women launching businesses than men (although can't remember exact stat).

bealos Tue 13-Nov-12 18:51:24

The most oft hear excuse for lack of women (not just on boards, as speakers at events, in the public eye - see recent BBC Radio 4 Today programme) is that 'they couldn't find anyone suitably qualified'.

I think it's fair to say that there are lots of qualified women out there, but perhaps not in the immediate pool of people that they are looking in.

Quotas mean that people are forced to look outside their 'usual circles' (read: old boys clubs) to find people who are interesting and qualified.

No-one is suggesting that a woman should be hired on tokenism. That would be shit.

bealos Tue 13-Nov-12 18:54:24

As a little (related) plug, which may interest some...

I recently launched Articulate, which aims to raise the profile of women speakers in the technology and the creative industries by developing partnerships with event programmers, offering public speaking training, and giving better access to talented female speakers - through an integrated speaker directory.

We believe industry conferences and events would be more interesting, relevant and challenging if they reflected the diversity of their audiences. Gender balance is just one element of this diversity, but it’s an important one that we’re able to change.

We’re committed to helping event and conference organisers widen their networks, think about new formats and attract a diverse range of speakers. Supporters of Articulate include: Ada Lovelace Day, Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network, D-Construct, Future Everything, Lady Geek & Little Miss Geek, MozFest, Picnic, Playful, SheSays, Shift Happens, Speaking Out, The Story, The Wild Rumpus, and UX London, and the list continues to grow... (note to non-geeks: these are lots of amazing techy events]

We have almost 500 women signed up to our unpublished Speaker Directory [] and our aim is to double this in the next 6 months. We're speaking to people at Lanyrd and Linkedin about create something integrated to existing technology.

We want to launch a Kickstarter campaign to make the Speaker Directory publicly accessible in 2013, and alongside it, a curated approach to highlighting the speakers, and also, crucially, we are looking for investors to support the project.

LadyStark Tue 13-Nov-12 18:59:54

Here's my tweets from the event I went to recently if you're interested, I think they touch on some of the interesting points in the debate.

"we need more women running businesses, not just being non-execs, non-execs don't run the company" Sarah Sands

"let's name and shame the companies that aren't working, let's make it embarrassing not to have women in top jobs" Sarah Sands

"highly corrosive if people believe someone is only on a board because of mandatory quotas" Helen Brand, ACCA - countered by a member of the audience pointing out that it's highly corrosive not having women on boards at all!

The stat I was looking for... "women start businesses at half the rate that men do" Harriet Baldwin MP

"not just a glass ceiling, it's a glass labyrinth. There are blockages for women at every level"

Possibly my favourite quote - "we should have the confidence to be as average as men"

montana50 Tue 13-Nov-12 19:00:18

Although it may not seem popular, whenever trying to achieve change where prejudice is the issue the law has to get involved. And it is not because women are not capable that they are not making the boards of these companies, it is because they are often not seen as the right 'fit' in the organisation at board level. The only way to change this is to really challenge organisations to change from inside and they will only do this if forced to.

bealos Tue 13-Nov-12 19:08:12

“If women were more encouraged to set up businesses, it would add £60bn to the economy.” (The Guardian, 1/5/12)

blondieminx Tue 13-Nov-12 19:14:40

I agree with MrsMargo

No, we shouldn't need quotas but voluntary targets have achieved bugger all and it's about time businesses started to select board members from a broader candidate base.. Which I think they will have to be required to do! This will in turn force companies to think about their "pipeline".

maillotjaune Tue 13-Nov-12 19:28:32

I don't really like the idea of quotas but I can't see any other way to get the women who should be in senior positions there.

This isn't about appointing women who aren't up to the job - the point being that the best candidates are often missing out already because they are women.

Agree with the previous post that you need to start with middle management getting them board ready. My company was acquired by a US giant a few years ago and although this has been a pain in many respects, their leadership programme has visibly increased the number of women in senior positions. Many of them have children and, unsurprisingly, they are perfectly capable of organising childcare that allows their full commitment to their roles at work.

Sadly this attitude is missing in many companies and they won't do it voluntarily.

mrscog Tue 13-Nov-12 19:41:18

I'm not sure about quotas but something should be done - I would be in favour of slow 'tweaks' first to see if it made any difference - if, after 3 years no progress had been made then I would be more welcoming of quotas. The kind of 'tweaks' I'm thinking of are - like mainly said above is that you need a reference from a woman as well as a man, maybe interview panels should be made up of 50:50 as well (I don't think you necessarily need everyone on an interview panel to be board level - someone senior management level should be more than qualified to interview and make judgments).

drcrab Tue 13-Nov-12 19:42:17

I think quotas without a pipeline of middle/senior female managers to take over is pointless. There needs to be succession planning and it should include both men and women.

Research shows that when asked to genderise words that are typically associated with leaders, people tend to also associate them with men. If you look at job ads ESP in the ft and the like, the words they use to describe a senior director's role appeal to men more than women. So we need to use more neutral words in ads.

Even women themselves tend to think less of themselves and talk themselves out of a promotion. Some high ranking woman told me once that men tick 2/10 boxes and think they are supermen and should be promoted. Women tick 9/10 and say 'oh dear I'll wait till next year!'

Think it has to do with the organizational structures so things like having enough women to mentor the junior women. So it's 'normal' to see women at the top so to speak. It's got to do with changing things like parental leave to include both parties. To change the work culture that staying late is the norm. Demonstrating that we allow flexible working for both genders do its not just mummy leaving early to pick DCs up its daddy too. And it's also senior director daddy doing it.

Government has to do their bit too. Changing legislation to make these things the norm rather than the 'mummy track'. I hate the fact that there are so many women who go part time AND give the reason as children (I have nothing against that btw) but not as many men. I know 3 men in my circle of friends; one is a sahd to 2 kids, one works part time by choice to 3 kids, one works In the evenings so does pick up drop off and homework.

I find that so refreshing.

AnnieLobeseder Tue 13-Nov-12 19:48:59

Yes, quotas are sorely needed. Until there are a good proportion of women in every boardroom, the Old Boy's clubs will remain in force, going to strip clubs or hiring in prostitutes for Board functions will remain accepted practice, and women will not be allowed in for fear of spoiling all this fun the boys are having.

I can't see any other way to break down the patriarchal and sexist way the higher echilons of most large corporations are run.

There are many, many qualified women out there who aren't getting to high positions simply because they are women. And plently of men are making to the boardroom because they are men. The quotas won't have to last forever, just long enough for some serious adjustment to the current sexist attitude of business, where women are for decoration and service, not valued colleagues.

WillieWaggledagger Tue 13-Nov-12 19:50:06

I once spoke to someone who is in a country with quotas.. He said that instead of women of less capability being promoted above men in order to fulfill the quota, what actually happened was that knowing that quotas would need to be filled, women with potential lower down the ranks were identified early and encouraged in the same way that men have been for years.

I am pro quotas

FrillyMilly Tue 13-Nov-12 19:51:40

Drcrab what reason would you like them to give for going part time? I'm working part time at the moment due to cost of child care. Where I work you can only apply for part time or flexible hours if you have children. I would happily work full time if I could make up the hours at home but it's not an option given to us at the moment. Things such as these would help keep women in the work force and continue up the career ladder.

janeyjampot Tue 13-Nov-12 19:58:37

I am not in favour of quotas because I find them patronising. I would hate to give anyone the opportunity to imply that a woman was not equal in ability to others on a board because she was there to satisfy the quota requirements.

To me, this is about aspiration as much as about ability. If we were better at identifying talent at an earlier stage, we could build aspiration and expectation in women (and of course this isn't just about women but rather about the whole diversity agenda). Too few women expect to be board members, but if they knew they had the potential to reach this level in their twenties they could build their expectations and organisations could ensure that their leadership potential was developed.

AnnieLobeseder Tue 13-Nov-12 19:59:35

I took drcrab's post to mean she would like to see childcare becoming seen to be more of an equal responsibility of both parents, with both men and women taking on flexible working and going part-time, so that doing so ceases to have more a negative impact on the careers of women and men.

AnnieLobeseder Tue 13-Nov-12 20:04:22

I would agree with others who say that introducing boardroom quotas alone isn't the answer - sexist stereotypes and expectations need to be challenged and broken down right from entry-level jobs. I think a lot of that will come with men taking on long-term paternity leave, childcare and part-time roles. But how do we get more men to embrace this when it may put their careers at risk in the same way that it currently does to women?

SundaeGirl Tue 13-Nov-12 20:05:55

I have heard women who make it on to high profile boards saying that there just isn't the time for them to turn down all the job offers they receive - they are so in demand. Those FTSE100 boards are high profile and they'd love the PR of having women at senior level. IMO it's further down when women are starting out in management roles when all the bad handling and prejudice is doing so much damage.

Women who are in their 30s/early 40s and juggling home life and work are simply not cut any slack and are often actively persecuted. Neither are men, of course, but women seem less prepared to take it if they don't have to. And why should they?

I'm pro-quotas but it should be time limited legislation - like 20 years or something - because in the end private companies should really be able to hire who they like. However, a short-term intervention does seem needed.

Please can we start with the Army? And the judiciary? And the police? I'm pretty sick of the public funding quite such sexist organisations.

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