Amanda Mackenzie, chief executive of Business in the Community, couldn’t have summed it up better: “As you read this list of excuses, you might think it is 1918 not 2018”.
The list she was referring to is the recently published list of excuses to explain why far too many FTSE350 boardrooms are still dominated by men.
In case you missed them, the roll-call of shame, gathered from interviews with executives of some of the UK’s biggest companies, included:
“I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment”
“There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues are extremely complex”
“Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”
“All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”
“There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were I would think about appointing a woman”
“I just can’t appoint a woman because I want to”
The research was published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and comes at a time when Sir Philip Hampton, who is leading the Hampton Alexander Review, is calling on FTSE350 companies to ensure that at least a third of their board members and leadership team are women by 2020.
While the excuses are depressing and disturbing in equal measure, the reality is that FTSE100 and a good number of the FTSE350 companies have taken significant steps in recent years to improve the gender make-up of their boards. This is backed up by Department for Business data showing that the number of females on boards has “more than doubled in the FTSE350 since 2011”. Alongside this, the number of all-male FTSE350 boards fell from 152 to just 10.
Projects carried out by Armstrong Craven further reinforce the hard statistics that things are getting better. We count a good number of FTSE100 and FTSE350 companies as clients who we have partnered with to help them put in place innovative and robust gender diversity and inclusion talent strategies.
Ensuring strong female representation on boards and in senior management teams has been high on the agenda of many organisations for some time. Many of them are also working with Armstrong Craven teams to build talent pipelines of female leaders of the future to ensure they are ahead of the game when it comes to hiring the best female talent for scarce and senior roles.
Achieving true gender diversity does not happen overnight. It is far from a quick fix. Instead, an organisation has to make it a key strategic goal and then ensure it has the right strategy in place to ensure success. Such a strategy requires lots of different facets including lateral thinking, a systematic search process, quantifying of the market, a willingness to go beyond sector and an understanding that parity is not always possible.
Andrew Griffiths, the UK Government Business Minister, rightly referred to the list of excuses as “pitiful and patronising”.
Those responsible for mouthing such woeful excuses need to wake up and realise we are living in the 21st Century not the Dark Ages. There is not a grain of truth to any of the excuses offered. If anyone needs persuading otherwise, I suggest they give a member of the Armstrong Craven team a call – just as plenty of other organisations have done in recent years.
Rachel Davis is the Deputy CEO of Armstrong Craven.