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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,


herethereandeverywhere Tue 13-Nov-12 23:20:06

I would LOVE a non-exec role or three. I'd be fking ace at it.

garlicbaguette Wed 14-Nov-12 00:41:02

I'm heavily in favour of quotas. I'm pissed off that they're needed, but voluntary balancing hasn't worked. It's naive to say women would be on the boards if they were good enough - well, either naive or sexist.

Want2bSupermum Wed 14-Nov-12 01:05:09

I think quotas are a terrible idea. Why are women not making it to board level in the UK?

1 - Childcare costs make it prohibitive for both parents to continue working during the early years.
2 - Maternity leave of 1 year for each child kills a career. Three children in five years results in one being out of the workplace for too long.
3 - Lack of women participating in management training programs (ie top flight MBA programs)
4 - Women in more senior roles not helping the next generation progress their careers (Thatcher was the worst for this).
5 - Lack of aspiration to develop a career in the workplace. I say this as someone who went to a top 50 school. Some of the girls were very bright but had not motivation to be running a company. They wanted to be married to the person running a company.

Address these main issues and I think you will see the proportion of women on boards increase. There needs to be a cultural shift and I dont think quotas are the right way to go about spearheading such a shift.

MavisG Wed 14-Nov-12 05:09:29

But Want2Be, why does 3 years off in 5 years but out of 45- 50 years kill a career? It doesn't in Scandinavia, but both men & women do it there. A year wasn't enough for me/my child; I walked away from my brilliant job because of it & lots of others do the same. Not saying it's the 'right' way to do things but plenty of women feel that way, even if it shocks them when they do (it did me, big time).

MavisG Wed 14-Nov-12 05:16:51

Oh and to answer my own question, I think it's related to the recruiting in your own image thing: if you took a career break/long mat leave(s) & got back into the swing of your career again you know that it can be done, efficiently and has benefits as well as disadvantages. If you can't imagine taking that time out it feels more worrying.
If as a culture we didn't write off careers after mat leave/childrearing breaks schoolgirls might feel more motivated, women might do more MBAs, fathers might take their half of the leave, the break, the family responsibility. And child are costs would not then affect women disproportionately.

MavisG Wed 14-Nov-12 05:18:02

*childcare costs

Knowsabitabouteducation Wed 14-Nov-12 05:19:09

It's patronising.

HesterBurnitall Wed 14-Nov-12 05:45:48

I'd rather be patronised than excluded from consideration because I don't fit the mold.

Let's face it there are great men and decidedly average men, not to mention incompetent men and corrupt men, filling our boardrooms already. Their unofficial quota works a treat. They're not even required to be the most special ever.

msrisotto Wed 14-Nov-12 06:21:25

To those saying 'address these issues without quotas' - how?

Want2bSupermum Wed 14-Nov-12 06:42:32

mavis I am in a client facing role. In my experience the issue isn't so much to do with the employer but with clients. In my case I had four clients who requested someone else be assigned as my absence was going to be longer than a month. Without clients you have no business so my employer went with the clients wishes and assigned someone else. When I returned I had to go out and find clients to work on. It was really tough as I went from having a nice roster of clients to having the crappy clients that no one else wanted. I was then seen as disposable and was subsequently disposed of.

In the companies I have worked for it is the people in client facing roles that get into senior positions where gaining a place on a board of directors is a possibility.

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 07:35:37


*1 - Childcare costs make it prohibitive for both parents to continue working during the early years.
2 - Maternity leave of 1 year for each child kills a career. Three children in five years results in one being out of the workplace for too long.
3 - Lack of women participating in management training programs (ie top flight MBA programs)
4 - Women in more senior roles not helping the next generation progress their careers (Thatcher was the worst for this).
5 - Lack of aspiration to develop a career in the workplace. I say this as someone who went to a top 50 school. Some of the girls were very bright but had not motivation to be running a company. They wanted to be married to the person running a company.*

And yet many of us who are at board level or equivalent think that quotas are necessary. As for your points:

1. Not for successful professional women
2. I don't agree with the Xenia approach of taking only 5 minutes mat leave but by the same token it isn't necessary to take 1 full year for each child. I had 3 children in 5 years and I took just over a year in total. But I also worked flexibly each time I went back. And I was smart - I moved jobs during that time to reduce, you know, the impact (and then moved jobs again when my child bearing was done)
3. Loads of women do MBAs. MBAs are however somewhat overrated.
4. There aren't enough senior women to be very helpful to most other women. But it's a bit rich to blame thatcher who has been gone for >20 years (hooray)
5. Some women are like this yes but then, there are plenty of low aspiration men.

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 07:57:19

@knowsabit (?) why is it not patronising for the many inadequate men who are at board level or equivalent (partner or director in a professional partnership for example) primarily because of their gender?

MoreBeta Wed 14-Nov-12 08:20:00

I am a bloke and I used to think that quotas are patronising and women who are good enough will get on to Boards on their own merits.

I was wrong. I now strongly believe there should be quotas. Women dont get onto Boards purely and simply because they are women. I am very close to this issue in my work and I know the experience first hand with three extremely well qualified women who should be sat on Boards but who have got nowhere even though theyhave tried hard and even been to interviews. There is always a reason such as lack of experience or too operational - but teh reality is they are just women but the selection panel cant say that.

I also know very well that there ar emen sat on Boards who are frankly useless and only got their position because of who they know. The number of male Board directors who sit on multiple Boards with each other is very obvious.

The lack of women on Boards damages firms and it damages the economy. The best people are not getting the Board positions. Pure and simple.

One final thing. If we do have quotas I dont want to see the same token tiny group of women being invited onto multiple Boards. I firmly believe nobody should be allowed to be a Director on more than two Boards. If we have quotas we have to avoid token women (eg ex politicians) being invited onto non exec Boards to make up the numbers. Women have to have serious management roles.

AuntLucyInTransylvania Wed 14-Nov-12 08:26:44

There is a well documented phenomena that recruiters tend to pick people 'just like me' at interview. So assuming board positions are recruited by existing members, then the status quo will persist - men appointing more men.

Maybe instead look to propose:

Both genders always represented on the board (no fixed proportions) and
Both genders always represented on the interview short list and
Both genders always represented on the interviewing panel of decision makers.

One woman on the board would fulfil criteria 1 (albeit she'll soon be sick to death of interviewing); criteria 2 doesn't disadvantage men or women (if anyone is at interview for 'tokenism' them they won't get appointed anyway', and criteria 3 negates the 'status quo' problem. Solved grin

MoreBeta Wed 14-Nov-12 08:37:29

AuntLucy - yes recruiters do pick in their own image and most Board positions are selected for through recruitment consultants and the agency will alway select shortlists on the basis that they know putting forward a woman is 'risky'.

Recruitment consultants are a big part of perpetuating the bias. They earn a commisison by putting forward candidates that have a high chance of being selected and guess what - they choose candidates that are 'safe'. In other words they choose, white male candidates who are already on a Board.

WillieWaggledagger Wed 14-Nov-12 08:41:31

that is v interesting about recruitment consultants morebeta

FrillyMilly Wed 14-Nov-12 08:43:50

Why is it assumed most women have no aspiration? Perhaps the lack of flexibility after having children and the constant 'oh you aren't going back are you' 'oh I couldn't have my kids brought up my someone else' comments from other people and the lack of affordable childcare kills off the aspirations they had. I think unless we can somehow change people's views that they understand dads can do childcare, working from home doesn't mean you watch Jeremy Kyle in your pjs, women have drive and using childcare does not lead to feral children we need quotas. It's much easier to introduce quotas than change our attitudes. It seems to me that women are the only group of people that its ok to stereotype. I've worked with plenty of men who have no drive whatsoever but this isn't applied to all men.

bealos Wed 14-Nov-12 08:55:15

I am on two non-exec boards. They are totally mixed gender, age and experience. I think it's the sector that is better at female representation - basically arts/culture. I've never been invited by anyone outside this sector to sit on a board.

ZombieOnABicycle Wed 14-Nov-12 09:11:56

I think quotas are incredibly patronising and will do more damage to women being viewed as equals.

If women want to be on boards - then work for it and get there under your own steam, so no one can accuse you of window dressing.

My DP is the SAHP and I work FT, I've worked very hard to get the position I hold and would be very pissed off if anyone even suggested I got there by anything other than my own hard work (and amazing support from my soon to be DH)

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 09:20:26

@Zombie I too got where I am today by my own hard work (not really, I think I've fluked my way up the career ladder to be honest). But I look around me and I see I am surrounded by men (many of them not that great) with nary a woman in sight. And most of the men are a bit rubbish. And I see women in my organisation and in other organisations who would be better than (some of) those men. And now I can see that unless things change, they will never get there - because now, from my vantage point, I see how the system works to keep them down. And I'm fed up of being the only woman in the room almost all the time. I'd like to see more. And quotas for board members will be one way to achieve this. And I can't see another one.

MoreBeta Wed 14-Nov-12 09:26:56

Zombie - you have clearly worked very hard and you are unfortunately part of the exception that proves the rule. There are far to many very well qualified women like you who are blocked though. You have been fortunate in not meeting that resistance but just because you have not been blocked does not mean there is not a problem.

It only takes one man in a powerful position to stop a woman's career dead in its tracks. The numbers speak for themselves - there are a tiny number of women on Boards and even fewer in positions of real power in executive Board positions.

Look I have spent a lot of time around men when women are not around and I know how men talk about women and in senior management positions. It is very common for men in senior management positions to stand around a bar after work talking about women in the most degrading and misogynist way imaginable.

The discrimination against women at that level of firms is real and intense.

senua Wed 14-Nov-12 09:37:42

The personal is political. Vote with your feet. And other such clichés. grin

I don't really care about the board structure of FTSE100 companies because I don't want to work for a FTSE100 company. I've worked for them in the past and i don't like their male mindset structure.
I now work for a SME (as do the vast majority of workers in the UK) with a 50/50 split on the board. The 50/50 is DH and me!
Why do you want to climb to the top of someone else's company?

cheeseandpineapple Wed 14-Nov-12 09:49:43

As things stand, imposing equal numbers on the Boards of major companies could be disasterous. A balance is needed but as someone said earlier, the cause of the imbalance needs to be addressed.

If it's just about getting equal numbers on a Board, then the quick fix is a quota. But the risk is impact on quality, efficiency and effectiveness, in the absence of a whole bunch of other quick fixes.

Eg a need for shared child care initiatives for both parents. Scandinavian countries offer this in addition to the quotas. Plus, flexible working practices and more accessible, affordable child care options eg on site for major companies. More commercial and business training early on, to encourage big picture strategic thinkers.

How do we ensure we get these?

There are an equal number (if not higher) of women at graduate level and junior/mid level roles but not at senior level. As things stand, women are not as motivated to develop their careers because of the sheer hardship of juggling it all. For those who are motivated, it may come at a greater price for women then men. The vast majority of women have children at some stage, I think it's 80% from a BBC stat I once saw, so this affects most women.

This is an ongoing vicious cycle. The real question for me, is how do we ensure women who don't want to compromise their career path can maintain their career and take it to the top? These are the women who should be at the top if they wish to and they have the skills. The percentages are pretty immaterial if we know that the women who wish to achieve, have a level playing field with their male counterparts.

Rather than quotas at Board level, I would be interested in the possibility of quotas at entry level and middle management for major companies where there are a certain number of employees or the company is listed. Given there are equal if not higher levels of female graduates, most companies may have equal numbers in the early days. So why make it mandatory if its already happening lower down?

I think it may need to be mandatory to ensure no risk to the levels dropping.

Because what we really need is for companies/organisations to be forced to accept flexible working practices and invest in certain types of leadership training for women as that will increase a pipeline of truly able and qualified women to take on the senior roles.

If companies have to have equal numbers of women in their workforce lower down the chain, they will have to adapt their working practices to make that feasible on an ongoing basis.

This should increase efficiency and allow women to maintain the experience they need for the bigger roles. If you make it tough on companies to support women, they can potentially cut the number of women they hire early on unless they have to fulfil quotas. Having a quota where you have a larger pool to select from, wont dilute the quality of your work force. Its's already roughly equal lower down, the quota would just ensure that doesn't change when there is pressure on companies to be more supportive.

At the end of the day you need quality at the top to make the business work. If you potentially dilute the quality because of numbers, without looking at the pipeline, businesses might suffer and that will impact lower down and across the markets. One of the other posters talked about pipeline and I fully agree.

No point having 50% women at the top if they aren't skilled, experienced and motivated to be at the top. My impression is that there simply aren't enough women in the pipeline at the moment to justify a quota at the top level.

Until companies are forced to retain women lower down the chain and make it possible for women to balance careers with childcare, playing with the quotas at the top end alone could have very detrimental impact on businesses and our credibility.

SundaeGirl Wed 14-Nov-12 10:07:39

Zombie, that's great that you got there. But wouldn't you have preferred it to be less of a struggle?

I agree with the poster talking about not making this women's fault. The problem is the board rooms are clogged with men. We need to unclog them a bit. And quotas would be a good way of doing that.

How does the law work in Norway? Are companies penalised if they don't meet the quota?

senua Wed 14-Nov-12 10:15:04

Actually, I think that women banging on the door demanding to be let in will probably never work. We have to show men that it's in their interest to have a good balance, something might happen then.
There are several examples of testosterone-fuelled behaviour almost bringing down the whole show (Barings, Bay of Pigs, banking crisis). If there had been a more female measured decision-making process then the disaster might never have occured. We need to sell that message.

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