Top women want opportunities, not quotas

More than 80 per cent of high-flying women questioned in a new survey believe there is anti-female bias in appointments to company boards – but most oppose the introduction of quotas.

The survey of 365 senior women and men was published by Harvey Nash, the international recruitment firm, and Inspire, its 2,000-strong network of female executive directors.

While 81 per cent of the women who responded felt bias had a significant impact on female representation on boards, 64 per cent were against formal quotas.

Inspire was launched by Carol Rosati, a director in Harvey Nash’s board practice, when she was involved in recruiting chief financial officers and found a lack of women. Three years on, Inspire offers board directors the chance to share views and experiences with colleagues from a broad cross-section of the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.

Rosati says:

“Too much networking is narrowly focused, meaning in practice you are meeting with competitors and can’t discuss real board issues. Inspire solves that issue.”

Survey respondents cited education and awareness as the best ways of improving the diversity of boards.

Rosati adds:

“Women recognise that they need to be more proactive. Fear of failure is a continuing obstacle to advancement for many women. But they don’t want tokenism.

“Men need to be educated as to what role women can play on the board. While most chairmen acknowledge the positives of appointing more women, it is more about fairness than effectiveness and corporate performance. Women, too, need to identify what they can bring to the board.”

Some 84 per cent of respondents agreed that women need to do more.

“Women need to see other women succeed,” argues Rosati. Too often there is a downward spiral of one generation of no high-profile women generating another.

To help develop the pipeline of talent for the future, Harvey Nash plans to launch a new networking group, possibly to be called Aspire, that will be focused on executive committee-level women who can be mentored by Inspire’s membership to become board-ready.

Inspire’s networking events have also flagged the importance of flexible working and family friendly policies not just for women but also for men. Rosati herself lives in Somerset and spends three days a week in London. “It works perfectly,” she says.

Women, from the results of this survey, want greater opportunities at the highest levels of corporate life – but they want to win the prizes, not be handed them by legislation giving a leg-up.

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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

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She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

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He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

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