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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 Wed 14-Nov-12 23:29:36

I definitely think we don't want to get diverted into talking about flexible working again. Do we really want to look like that dog in Up, constantly being distracted by squirrels?

BlackSwan Wed 14-Nov-12 23:37:06

It's not a diversion, it's the harder question for most businesses, as it would have real consequences for the day to day running of a workplace.

Unless we're talking real levels of participation by women at board level - it's not going to make a hell of a lot of difference, because people on boards tend to move as a group in decision making and not rock the boat. I'd like to see a lone female board member be a trailblazer, but it ain't happening.

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 23:42:57

It is comletely a diversion and the fact that you don't recognise that it is, just goes to show how well the men condition us to not rock the boat.

I'm fine. I'm a director. And my daughters are unlikely to go into the corporate world. But I might have granddaughters one day. Who might want to go into the corporate world. And I really don't want them to be faced by severely limited horizons and no likely prospect of being treated equally with similarly talented and qualified men, but with really good flexible working arrangements in those subservient less-than-their-talents-deserve jobs.

garlicbaguette Thu 15-Nov-12 00:29:36

Every time flexible working is raised with specific reference to women's careers, it reinforces the view that women don't 'work properly' because of having families.

To me it is obvious that flexible working ought to be beneficial to workers of all sexes, with and without children, and to their employers. We live in a 24-hour world but still work 10-hour days. This, however, is not a women's issue - or shouldn't be addressed as one. If women are primarily responsible for family, they are not primarily responsible to their employers.

All of this is extraneous to the urgent matter of board balancing. There are ample women, here and now, who've organised their family commitments such that they can devote as much time to work as men. Get them on the boards first, then press them to look at employee work/life balance.

Want2bSupermum Thu 15-Nov-12 00:34:56

Flexible working is not the answer to our problems. Getting men to pull their weight at home is. I love DH dearly but I gave up and hired a housekeeper two weeks ago to come in 4 evenings a week for 3 hours at a clip. I get home at 7pm which is when DD is heading down to bed. DH finishes work at 4.30pm, picks DD up and is home for 5pm. He should have her bedtime routine covered but it doesn't happen.

I am not going to sacrifice my career to cover for DH. I will add that DH is Danish so has no excuse at all for his apathy towards my career. It is a sticking point between us because I am not working a job, I am developing my career.

I also question the usefulness of comparing Norwegian boards to FTSE 100 boards. Norwegian companies are mainly state owned and they are profitable because they are mainly oil and gas related which have high profit margins compared to the companies that comprise of the FTSE 100. I think it would be better to compare the composition of boards that make up the top companies in the DAX (Germany), IBEX(Spain), CAC 40 (France), OBX (Scandinavian countries), S&P 500 (US) and TSX (Canada) indicies. It would also be interesting to look at the longer term trend of board composition. A two year snapshot is a very short time period and if you consider that board members tend to be in their 50s, there are not many women from that generation in the workplace. There are many more women in their 40s in senior management roles. How many of these women are going to make it to boards?

garlicbaguette Thu 15-Nov-12 01:02:35

there are not many women from that generation in the workplace

No, because we gave up or were pushed out - after having decided not to have children or made unconventional arrangements, so as to 'play the game'. The problem is that this is only part of the game; the more visible part. The greater, more influential, part revolves around (deliberate and subliminal) male clubbability and good old sexism. You also find that ageism's an even bigger problem for women than for men. I started my career in 1979. We've been asking the same bloody questions since before then. It is not all about flexibility!

WideAwakeMum Thu 15-Nov-12 05:59:58

Well, I'd like to see quotas actually. Sick of the inequality, sick of getting looked down on by men every time I raise the issue of 'gender diversity' on committees/boards.

amillionyears Thu 15-Nov-12 08:39:45

If there were a lot more women on boards, would they necessarily want to have more women on the boards themselves?

alreadytaken Thu 15-Nov-12 09:09:32

anyone at board level should take a good look around at the other members. I would be extremely surprised if you can't find at least half who are not as good as women in the company. Yes there should be quotas, although not 50/50. We really can not afford to carry the inadequate males at board level.

HullyEastergully Thu 15-Nov-12 09:16:26

how could anyone POSSIBLY say no?


MoreBeta Thu 15-Nov-12 09:59:12

Want2bSupermum - interesting your point about Norwegian firms.

From what I have seen of Scandinavian, Swiss, German and French firms (I used to work in the energy industry) there really is not much difference between them and UK firms when it comes to female representation on Boards. Continental European and Scandinavian firms in my view are not better at bringing women in to positions of real power on Boards than UK firms although the raw numbers make it look better.

I would also add that as well as heavy state intervention there are also a lot of firms that are quoted on European stockmarkets but effectively still majority owned or under the control of a family shareholder A lot of the women on Boards of firms in mainland Europe are in fact female relatives of the original founder. All is not quite what it seems.

MordionAgenos Thu 15-Nov-12 10:06:08

@morebeta In my experience and in my sector Germany in particular is far behind the UK in terms of equality at the pointy end. The Scandinavian countries seem nicer and more equal but in practice, again, women at the top are few and far between.

On the other hand there are success stories in Eastern European 'new' countries although perhaps not at FTSE100 equivalent companies (but then, those don't exist in the same way there). It is not at all terribly noticesbly unusual to see women in positions of real power in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Czech Republic.....

RamblingRosa Thu 15-Nov-12 10:10:55

A big resounding YES from me. We need quotas. Quotas are the only thing that have been shown to work in terms of effecting change quickly (in Norway).

TalkinPeace2 Thu 15-Nov-12 11:21:09

And this quota thing has NOTHING to do with flexible working and day to day activities in firms.
Its about non execs in large companies
so its trying to change the ethos from the top that WILL have an impact on the other issues.

MousyMouse Thu 15-Nov-12 11:36:24

how could anyone POSSIBLY say no?
the old bald white men are trying their hardest atm. I really hope this goes through.

wrt to flexible working, this might also mean that flexible working will be more attractive for companies, as they need to get enough women to top levels to fill the quota without the companies suffering.

MousyMouse Thu 15-Nov-12 11:39:49

companies suffering = having to hire people who are not quite suitable because the are not enough qualified persons available on the job market.

MordionAgenos Thu 15-Nov-12 12:07:00

@takin indeed. It's a squirrel. But there may be an element of uppity career woman bashing going on too.

MordionAgenos Thu 15-Nov-12 12:08:29

@mousey there are plenty of qualified women available on the job market. It's a complete myth - perpetrated by guess who - that there aren't any good women out there.

notcitrus Thu 15-Nov-12 13:05:20

Another one who used to be against quotas, is now late 30s, and hitting the barrier of 'well you just don't come across as a senior manager' - which would be a good point if all the stakeholders I deal with didn't usually assume I'm a director or similar level! I think efforts like quotas are necessary.

One option at least in the public sector might be to tell headhunting firms that we will only use you if you can consistently supply 50% appropriate women for interviewing - I bet that would make a difference quite quickly!

Want2bSupermum Fri 16-Nov-12 03:14:58

DH is Danish and has worked for a Danish company for his whole career. There are very few women in leadership positions and almost no women in areas such as sales (3 women, two are new trainees, out of 200+). Those in sales and production are the ones who make it to the board. MoreBeta The two women on the board are related to the two biggest shareholders. I pointed this out to DH when he said his employer did support women in the workplace.

The Danish people who I have gotten to know through DH talk a great game but in reality there are some very limited views on what equality is. Apparently I should be willing to drop everything and move to the other side of the world because it would be good for his career. How about my career? Rather sexist attitude in my opinion....

Anyway, I found this article published by Delolitte that gives a comparison of the breakdown of the representation of women on boards. Norway and France both have quotas and have higher participation of women on the boards. The UK is doing well compared to other countries without quotas. Interestingly the US has the highest participation of women on boards (where no quota is in place).

I am married to someone who could end up on the board. I have strongly encouraged DH to mentor the two female trainees in his department and challenge his opinions when it comes to management issues that he discusses with me. In my workplace I challenge those who don't support diversity. I find it interesting that no one is talking about the representation of other minority groups on boards. I love the fact that the team I am working with this week includes three Americans, an Egyptian, a Chinese person, someone from Rwanda via France and a Brit (myself). The quality of person is much higher than at my previous employer where everyone was white middle class Americans.

MordionAgenos Fri 16-Nov-12 08:15:07

@want2b other minority groups Women aren't a minority though, are we? In the population. Just in positions of power and influence. I think people are talking about ethnic representation, as it happens, just not on here. But certainly in the city being a woman is a bigger drawback than being a member of an ethnic minority.

Completely agree with you re Denmark, where your experience mirrors mine, except for the being married to a Dane bit (I do a lot of work with Danes though) and the US - generally speaking things are better for women in the US than here. Generally speaking things are better for women here than in the rest of Europe (including most of Scandinavia though possibly not Norway). Agitating and keeping the issue at the forefront hasn't served us completely uselessly up till now. But I don't think it can take us any further, hence my support for quotas.

HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 16-Nov-12 11:48:22

Hello. Just posting to thank you for all your response so far and to let you know that we have put up a poll about this on our Facebook page.

Please do come and have your say: it's a simple yes/no question so it'll only take a mo.

We'd be really really interested to see the results...

CalmingMiranda Fri 16-Nov-12 14:21:03

What would the quota be? How do we set an acceptable minimum? Would the quota be a mimimum - or be viewed as companies as the maximum they need bother with?

It's all very well having quotas in Norway, Norway has one of the most working-parent environments on the world. A quota in Norway is likely to simply address sexism. A quota here may be patronising and allow women who are not the creme de la creme to be appointed because the top competition have been at home.

But then the stifling of women's careers has enabled mediocre men to flourish for lack of competition.

I think the years of quotas have gone. We need to address the economic factors and the culture which expects women to stall their careers, women and men to 'assume' that the parent who stays home when baby is sick is the woman etc etc.

I only caught part of Nick Clegg's interview on R4 this week about flexible working, but why was he talking of 'grandmothers' helping their 'daughters' with childcare? What about Grandfathers helping their sons?

TalkinPeace2 Fri 16-Nov-12 14:25:22

for non execs it should be 50%
same as the population

remember that this is NOT about full time work and careers
this is about part time non execs at big companies
day a week type things - there really is NO EXCUSE why companies are not using more women

flowery Fri 16-Nov-12 14:31:10

I'm interested to know whether any of those in favour of quotas for women would also be in favour of them for minority ethnic groups? If not, why not?

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