It was good to read last week that David Cameron had written to the chief executives of the FTSE 100 companies to remind them of their obligation – recommended in Lord Davies’ report on Women in Boards published last February – to work out how they are going to aim for 25% female representation on their Boards by 2015. 58 of the FTSE 100 companies have published goals and plans, which still leaves a hefty proportion for whom we are still waiting; according to The Times, 14 FTSE 100 companies still have all-male boards, which means that their task is harder, so we await with interest how they are going to do this.
Lurking in the background, of course, is the spectre of quotas – imposed, legal quotas on the number of women that Boards must have in order to be allowed to function. Realistically, no-one wants quotas – Boards need the freedom to be able to appoint the very best people regardless of gender, men need not to feel that they may not have been appointed simply because they are men, and women need to be utterly secure that they were appointed because they were genuinely the best person for the job, if they are to avoid the risk of being undermined in boardroom politics.
Yet something needs to be done. Boards with women on them do better, as research from McKinsey shows; gender diversity makes a difference. And while we can understand that our social history cannot be reversed in an instant, it is clear too that there is some powerful resistance underlying the lack of women on boards in some quarters, which explains the anger and frustration of key women leaders revealed at a meeting last month attended by Janice Turner of The Times, which she reported in her column.
Boards need to grow up and wise up – recognise that there are some amazing women leaders out there, and find them. Even better, they should undertake to grow and nurture them. If this means opening minds to the advantages of flexible working practices and flexible career patterns as a way of making it possible for women and men to create the balance they need, this is no bad thing at all; it is a positive advance and embracing of the modern world. We live in a world where technology makes connecting with people and working around other commitments so much more possible than it ever was when bowler-hatted, briefcase-carrying, umbrella-wielding executives – invariably men – caught the 8.16 train to Waterloo every day.
It is time to move forward – and it shouldn’t stop with the FTSE 100.