Two images stand out from the 30% Club’s latest report into why relatively few women make it to the highest echelons of UK companies.
Both illustrate that the main problem with gender imbalance lies in the executive committee and below – the so-called “talent pipeline”. A man starting his career at a FTSE 100 company is 4.5 times more likely to reach the executive committee than a women, the research says. This is how far short big UK companies fall:
The UN theme for International Women’s Day on Saturday is: Equality for women is progress for all. One glance at the FT graphic on women in senior management, published on Friday, suggests this progress is now happening on a global scale – but with some perhaps surprising results.
Anglo American’s Cynthia Carroll would quite justifiably like to be assessed for her performance as a chief executive, not as a female chief executive. The same goes for two other prominent chief executives of UK companies who have announced their departure this month: Marjorie Scardino at Pearson (which owns the FT) and Kate Swann at WH Smith.
But the continued scarcity of female CEOs worldwide, the fact that two of this trio will be replaced by men (Ms Carroll’s successor has yet to be named), and the coincidence with a heated debate about gender quotas in European Union boardrooms make this a legitimate theme.
Specifically, it draws attention to the only element of the gender quota debate that pro-quota and anti-quota camps agree on (apart from the ultimate objective of achieving greater balance): that it is more important to fill the pipeline of female executives than it is to stock the board with female non-executives.
The problem with conventional wisdom is that academics will insist on testing whether it is truly wise.
So the popular assumption that Lehman Brothers would not have collapsed if it had been Lehman Sisters (to quote, among others, European commissioner Viviane Reding and former UK minister Harriet Harman) seems to take a knock from a new discussion paper published by Germany’s Bundesbank. It concludes:
Board changes that result in a higher proportion of female executives also lead to a more risky conduct of business.
What does the march of women into senior executive positions look like? Something like this, according to a new Thomson Reuters report:
Progress to the C-suite: the steeper, the better
Each triangle represents one of the 1,965 companies in the Asset4 global database of environmental, social and governance information. If the proportion of female managers out of total management were the same as the proportion in the workforce, the lines would cut the graph in two, bottom-left to top-right. But the lines remain shallow, despite a slight improvement between 2005 and 2010.
As I’ve written recently, an obsession with boardroom quotas is a distraction. Groups that want to fish in a deeper talent pool – and improve innovation and corporate performance – should be more worried about the shallow gradient of these executive lines.