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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,


drcrab Tue 13-Nov-12 20:16:50

Sorry frilly yes it was as how annie read it. That I want to see equal numbers of men and women using childcare as the reason to 'go part time'. I know a guy who proudly said oh I can't go part time, I am the higher earner. Well yes, that's because his wife was made redundant and settled for the first job that came along to pay the bills!!

PPPop Tue 13-Nov-12 20:36:37

Quotas are treating the symptoms, not the cause, IMHO.
The real issue is supporting women on the way up to the top, which is where many (most) organisations fall short, no matter what their policies on diversity may suggest <speaks from bitter experience>

notenoughsocks Tue 13-Nov-12 20:51:03

I am all in favour of quotas.

I realise that there are real, undeniable problems with quotas. However, we have spent decades (not me that is the sisterhood 'we' - I am not that old) conceeding sensible points and arguments and suggesting sensible and reasonable alternatives. It has not got us very far.

So yes to quotas. It is not a perfect solution. But it might bring about changes which so far have largely failed to occur in any meaningful sense. I personally don't think of it as patronising.

WillieWaggledagger Tue 13-Nov-12 20:52:45

Yes, I do think that quotas would force the issue and actually ensure the changes that companies claim to be making

notenoughsocks Tue 13-Nov-12 20:55:25

We should have the confidence to be as average as men.


I remember hearing somebody on Woman's Hour saying that, in her experience, one of the surest ways to put women off of applying for a job was to advertise a high salary. Lots of men who weren't properly qualified would usually put themselves forward whereas women tended to take the job spec quite seriously and only apply if they were reasonably sure they could fufill all the criteria well.

msrisotto Tue 13-Nov-12 20:55:33

What are the other options? Sitting and waiting for society to change naturally? 5% every 2 years?

FrillyMilly Tue 13-Nov-12 20:59:07

Ah right I see drcrab and yes I agree with you. It would be nice if we as a society could see men as equally responsible for childcare. There is no shame in a man going part time. Unfortunately due to the male often being the higher earner it is the women who end up part time, as is the case in my situation.

onemorebite Tue 13-Nov-12 21:03:36

Yes - definitely need quotas. Boards are a self-selecting club. They want men who look and act like they do. So they think women don't have the necessary qualities - failing to recognise the enormous talents of the women around them.

I also think it suits men to make it difficult for women to get on to boards. Each woman that steps aside, drops out or even sets up her own business is another less competitor.

MavisG Tue 13-Nov-12 21:04:45

Read as far as Miggsie's post. Agree totally with her (yes to quotas, there's evidence that recruiters recruit in their own image rather than select the best, prejudice is racial & ablist too).

MavisG Tue 13-Nov-12 21:05:32

Oh & Miggsie I am really sorry they did this, it's outrageous.

amillionyears Tue 13-Nov-12 21:30:31

How is childcare done in Norway.
More daddycare or more nurseries?

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen Tue 13-Nov-12 21:35:29

notenoughsocks your quote reminds me of a similar one about my employer - a high up female once said 'we will have equality when our committees are 50% female and half of those women are completely ineffective.'

Nosleeptillgodknowswhen Tue 13-Nov-12 21:36:54

Oh and i am for quotas - i think there has to be a proactive way to increase the number of women on boards (i sit on 3 company boards and am the only female on 2 of these).

TalkinPeace2 Tue 13-Nov-12 21:58:26

Quotas would be great
but the bigger issue is that company boardrooms are jobs for the boys and their wives.
When people like Lady Judge have over 30 directorships, that is NOT good for either those boardrooms OR other women.

There are lots and lots of MN posters who would make excellent part time Non Exec directors for their former companies
but sadly the recruitment teams do not realise they are in a box let alone thinking outside it.
The headhunting firms are run for and by twenty something men.

The second issue is "presenteeism"
My sister is a director of a nationally known company. The pressure on her to not be home in time to collect her son from Nursery is intense.
And yet before she had him I watched her produce the same report three times as she kept coming up with the (correct) answer the top bod did not like.

Companies of all sizes have to learn that being at desks for silly testosterone fuelled hours may not be best for their company.

Lets start with the non execs - once every board has a variety of women around even if they work part time, the attitude will change.

herethereandeverywhere Tue 13-Nov-12 22:00:50

Starting out in my career (city law, corporate - so much experience of "the Boardroom" and how few women, if any, are in most of them) I would have said "no" to quotas - promote strictly on merit, you'll never be treated as an equal whilst you ask for special treatment etc.

However, I now support quotas, for the reason given by MavisG. In the partnership I work in, the men always promote those "made in their own image" and grooming for partnership starts early, so they are mentored in a way that the women are not. - This "old boys club" attitude is as prevalent in the boardrooms as in the City firms (if not more so).

Women often do well early in their careers as male superiors see them as a "safe pair of hands" or a "reliable workhorse". They're effectively seen as the "wife" who stays in the office and makes all the dreary sh*t happen, working really fking hard with lots of attention to detail required. We believe that all this hard work and positive feedback is affirmation that we're doing all the right things to be promoted into the top tier (partnership/board level). The men on the other hand are out rainmaking - getting closer to the clients, watching how deals are put together etc. being assured that they don't need to worry too much about the detail (those reliable women will see to that!) And women end up making themselves indispensable at the rank below board/partner, where most of us work until our biological clock tells us to get a move on with having kids. Trying to combine motherhood with the intensity of work required to stay at that level is nigh-on impossible (ironically, once you get to partnership/board level you're given much more freedom to flex your working to suit yourself). It is at this stage that women see they've actually been on a parallel track to the men in the business and whilst the men are knocking on a door which keeps opening, the women have worked themselves into a dead end. Unsurprisingly there is huge attrition of women from big business and the city at this point.

On top of this some businesses (such as my ex-employer) are making having children even more difficult by doing things such as 1)making it clear that leaving the office (at your contracted time) to collect your child every day is "not acceptable" - even though you work from home for several further hours and 2) changing maternity policy so that if you have less than a 2 year age gap you will not get enhanced maternity pay for the 2nd period of absence, only statutory - hardly 21st century and female friendly. Yes, this is my experience of a law firm and not a company but city professionals who go on to work client-side are (or should be) prime high calibre candidates for positions.

herethereandeverywhere Tue 13-Nov-12 22:06:32

should say "prime high calibre candidates for board positions".

Agree with Talkinpeace2 re: presenteeism.

AnnieLobeseder Tue 13-Nov-12 22:11:17

To those who say that quotas will devalue the achievements of women already in the boardroom - I agree.


I imagine that women who are currently in boardrooms had to make many more sacrifices and work considerably harder than any man on the same board. It is completely unreasonable that a) they had to do so and b) any new women coming onto those boards would have to do the same. While a small proportion of women may have these extraordinary skills and dedication, most do not. Nor do their male counterparts. So sadly, these women may well find their achievements devalued, but we cannot hold back thousands or even millions of ordinary women from reaching the top just to uphold the extraordinary efforts of a very few.

TalkinPeace2 Tue 13-Nov-12 22:22:05

When I was qualifying as an accountant, all the partners in the firm were divorced freemasons.
neither an aspiration for me setting up home with DH, nor actually possible for the female staff.

MNHQ : the simplest start is that every company seeking new non exec directors should be FORCED to look among its female ex employees
of all grades and backgrounds
BEFORE going to the nice men in suits agencies ....

if there are no suitable women, so be it, but they have to go and look rather than expect us to knock at their door.

and stop having all the interviews in central London clashing with the effing school run!
(I've looked at a few vacancy sites on Linkedin)

Silibilimili Tue 13-Nov-12 22:29:54

Its a sad situation but it is very much a mans world out there.

The answer is not so simple either though. You need the right 'quality' of women to be in the forefront. Not just a dummy someone has put there to fill the quota.

I have seen the quota system not work when used for promoting ethnic minorities in non uk countries. Those sometimes backfire too.

its a tricky question and the answer is not so simple as no or yes.

I think the key is to empower women. This means easier and cheaper access to child care and elderly care.

Better laws that allow one to be REALLY flexible at work to be able to continue a high profile career.

Hmmm. I am going to have to think about this one and come back to answer.

edam Tue 13-Nov-12 22:45:54

There are plenty of over-promoted, lower quality people filling boardrooms right now. They are called men. Unless you seriously believe men are naturally cleverer and wiser, the male domination of boardrooms logically means more able women are being squeezed out by less able men. That is not good for business, not good for the economy and not good for society.

Asking nicely has got us nowhere. We need action. Quotas would allow companies to replace some of these timeservers with bright, effective women.

TalkinPeace2 Tue 13-Nov-12 22:50:34


FannyPriceless Tue 13-Nov-12 22:50:40

Early in my career I would have said no, but two decades later I have seen too much to continue sitting on my hands waiting for this situation to change. it won't.

Those who say, 'if the women are good enough, they will get the positons' are really a bit naive, I'm sorry to say. I used to think that was the case, but it is NOT. There are companies full of capable high-achieving women, that still have men only boards, or a lone woman because they think that ticks a box.

This situation has stayed the same for too long now. It will not change without intervention. Quotas are needed. Unquestionably.

Those of you saying 'if the women aren't good enough, they shouldn't be on the board' have obviously never sat in a room full of fellow company directors and felt dismayed at the lack of basic business competence that surrounds you in male form. Boardrooms are full of arrogant men who would never dream of questioning whether or not they have the necessary skills to be there - and many frankly don't. If you are going to apply that statement to the women, for gods sake apply to the men too - that would clear a bit of space around the table! grin

haventgotaclue Tue 13-Nov-12 22:57:13

I think quotas are required and are a good idea.

As other posters have said, men have had the upper hand for too long. While they dominate the board rooms, they continue to select similar people for board vacancies I.e. other men. Until the balance of power is challenged forcibly, the decision making process will continue to be biased towards men.

I think the other benefit of getting more women onto boards is that it can change the culture of those companies. For example, I believe it would set an example to women further down the structure to show them what is possible and it would start to address the issues preventing women progressing to board positions.

This would help ensure that women in future would be more able to progress to board positions 'naturally' without quotas being required.

I don't believe quotas would be required permanently, just until a natural equilibrium has been found and sustained.

What I'm not sure about is what percentage the quotas should be set at.

NaiceAm Tue 13-Nov-12 22:58:42

Herethereandeverywhere, I am sitting here trying to work out how to approach my review tomorrow and how to deal with my anger at getting passed over for opportunities yet again in favour of my male colleagues at a city law firm. What you wrote has struck a cord.

Until there is a level playing field (which requires a shift in attitudes and better childcare opportunities), we should have quotas and a proper open debate about female attrition. It is not that women wimp out. I don't want to bleat about sexism in the workplace and nor do I want to blame hitting what is effectively a glass ceiling...but sexism is endemic albeit increasingly unconscious/insidious.

MavisG Tue 13-Nov-12 23:02:47

50% Haven't, surely?

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