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A new report from Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission – Sex and Power 2011 – contains a headline-grabbing factoid:
If women were to achieve equal representation among Britain’s 26,000 top positions of power, the Commission estimates that 5,400 ‘missing’ women would rise through the ranks to positions of real influence.
Two things stood out from my recent video interview* with Laurence Parisot, head of Medef, the French employers’ federation: one frivolous, one deadly serious. The first was that Parisot said that, aged nine, she had hoped to be “number one” in water-skiing (and, less surprisingly, in business or politics). The second was her equation of misogyny with racism.
As companies strive to meet targets – and, in a few countries, mandatory quotas – for women on corporate boards, one of the hardest myths to dispel is the lack of supply.
Simon Murray’s curriculum vitae – complete with a stint in the Foreign Legion, a love of helicopter flying and a penchant for endurance running – suggests he is an old-fashioned man’s man. But man’s men have learnt to keep to themselves any unreconstructed views on women in business. Instead, the newly appointed chairman of Glencore ran straight into a wall of criticism after telling the UK’s Sunday Telegraph that women are “not so ambitious in business as men because they’ve better things to do. Quite often they like bringing up their children…”
Sylvia Ann Hewlett has offered a glimpse of her new study with Ripa Rashid into the aspirations and fears of Chinese women in business.
As she writes in her Harvard Business Review blog, the lesson for companies that wish to tap this talent pool is a simple one:
Supporting China’s qualified women isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s absolutely necessary.
“Institutionalised discrimination”, prejudice, “group think” and patriarchy are among the main obstacles for women wishing to progress to the corporate heights, according to respondents to the FT’s first Women at the Top survey.
The FT asked a deliberately provocative question: “Are women their own worst enemies when it comes to achieving diversity in the boardroom?” Seventy-five per cent of respondents said no, but women (and men) who provided additional comments put some interesting gloss on their responses.
Aude de Thuin, founder of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, has stepped back from management of the forum and sold her shares to Publicis.
That’s a bigger step than it sounds. Publicis has had majority control of the Forum’s parent company since 2009, but I can testify, having met de Thuin and attended the first few annual conferences in Deauville (the FT used to be one of its media partners), that she was the heart of the event.
Jack Welch – once a self-confessed “neanderthal” on women in business – is perhaps the last person you’d expect to fret about the “glass cliff”.
But when I interviewed him a few years ago, he said he was worried that if three prominent female chief executives failed to meet the big challenges they faced it would set back the cause of getting more women into the boardroom. The trio were Pat Russo at Lucent (later Alcatel-Lucent), Anne Mulcahy of Xerox and Carly Fiorina, then CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
Davos has struggled to shake its alpha-male image, despite its best efforts. Fewer than a fifth of leaders present last year were women.
Hence the flurry of interest in the World Economic Forum’s efforts to increase the number of women attending this year’s conference by insisting on quotas.