Tag: equality

Liz Bolshaw

Susanna Mälkki, the Finnish conductor, made history when she raised her baton at La Scala opera house on April 26. With the world premiere of Luca Francesconi’s Quartett, the Helsinki-born maestra became the first woman to conduct an opera in the famous Milanese auditorium since it opened 232 years ago.

Liz Bolshaw

There is a van I see round the lanes of Somerset proudly emblazoned “Plumbers and Heating Engineers – M. Head and Daughters”. The sign is testament to the fact that the family firm is no longer a beacon of primogeniture, and there is a growing trend for family businesses to be led and managed by women.

Liz Bolshaw

Odgers Berndtson, the executive recruitment company, today publishes the results of a survey of more than 100 senior women working in financial services in the City of London.

Liz Bolshaw

The blogosphere has been humming for the past few weeks following Noam Cohen’s piece in The New York Times discussing the fact that just 13 per cent of Wikipedia contributors are women.

Liz Bolshaw

There was a time when doctors were men and nurses were women. In People at Work, the 1960s Ladybird book series, the nurse was female, and the carmakers, the policeman and the miner male. We can smile at the gender stereotypes from our 21st-century vantage point, but how far have we moved in reality?

Liz Bolshaw

Tuesday March 8 is International Women’s Day. And if that wasn’t enough reason to celebrate, this year also marks the 100th anniversary of an annual event that was first held in 1911.

Here at Women at the Top we will be celebrating the great contributions made by exceptional women over the past century. And while historical perspective is salutary, geography can be more so. Claire Hughes Johnson, vice-president, global online sales at Google, writes pertinently in her blog:

“When I speak about my work, the questions I get are often about the efforts we make to bring more women into engineering and how I maintain my work/life balance with two young children. These are very important questions, but I’m acutely aware that they reflect a certain amount of privilege when it comes to issues of women’s equality. Despite the incredible advances women have made in the last century, many around the world are still struggling to provide for their families and keep them safe amidst violence and instability.”

Liz Bolshaw

In Monday’s FT, Lucy Kellaway writes about the impact that she, specifically as a female non-executive director (of Admiral, the FTSE 100 car insurance group), has on her board.

How much does gender deliver diversity? Will a woman inevitably bring a different perspective to the board table than a man, or do we exaggerate the importance of gender in our drive for more heterogeneous management teams? Kellaway goes on to take a tilt at another mantra for increasing female participation at board level: positive role modelling. She writes:

“I don’t kid myself that my own inanely grinning face in the annual report is a good example to bright, ambitious women working in the company on whose board I serve.”

In an article published last year in European Management Review, an international journal, Sabina Nielsen and Morten Huse discussed their research into the contributions made by women directors to board decision-making and strategic involvement at 120 Norwegian companies.

Because Norway has the highest level of participation of women in the boardroom globally, having introduced a 40 per cent quota in 2008, it makes for a useful gender lab.

Broadly, the researchers found it was not gender as such that underpinned women’s different perspectives, but rather the varied professional experience and value systems they tended to bring to the boardroom. More women than men in the research sample had higher degrees and non-business backgrounds. They were less likely than men to tolerate ethical lapses such as insider trading.

Most of them held, like Kellaway, non-executive roles, and those who were executive directors tended to be in “soft” areas such as human resources, marketing and corporate and social responsibility. This difference led to a commonly held notion, among both male and female directors, that female board members were less central to driving their boards’ decisions than their male counterparts. There was a difference in those cases where the chief executive was a woman: then all the women in the boardroom were deeply engaged in both setting strategy and contributing to board decisions.

One of the difficulties in research into gender difference in leadership is simply that it is hard to quantify. Also, it often corresponds to perceptions of gender stereotypes. We need more examples of gender-balanced boards – and especially of boards with three or more women executive directors – to be able to analyse how much gender itself makes a difference.

Liz Bolshaw

Lord Davies’ recommendations may not have gone as far as some European countries and introduced formal quotas for the FTSE 350, but make no mistake – the report has teeth.

Liz Bolshaw

A report in this weekend’s FT suggested that the UK government-sponsored inquiry into board diversity led by Lord Davies of Abersoch will stop short of imposing quotas for FTSE companies. Instead, the report says, boards may be given a two-year timeframe in which to meet a common minimum target – expected to be between 15 per cent and 30 per cent – to speed up the inclusion of more women on the boards of the UK’s largest companies.

Both the CBI, the employers’ group, and the Institute of Directors have been outspoken in their opposition to any common-to-all, compulsory targets. The CBI suggested that progress should reflect individual companies’ circumstances:

“For example, a media company with a high number of female staff may set a higher target for the number of women on boards, compared with an engineering firm with just a handful of female employees.”

The Institute of Directors is opposed to any imposition whatsoever:

“There are no shortcuts to greater gender diversity in the boardroom. As in other areas of corporate governance, the government should focus on long-term solutions rather than measures – such as board quotas or targets – that merely mask the symptoms of the problem.”

Lord Davies, who is due to report in two weeks’ time, has already disputed some of the arguments against legislative pressure to deliver more diversity. One objection has been the lack of suitably qualified women; another that women will rise to the top by their own efforts without the need for externally imposed targets.

But progress has been too little and too slow. The proportion of women on FTSE 250 company boards is just 7.8 per cent, and more than half of FTSE 250 companies have no women at the top.

In the past few weeks, Michel Barnier, the European Commissioner of Internal Markets, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German national newspaper:

“I am open to the idea of introducing Europe-wide quotas for women – for example, in the boardrooms of publicly traded companies.”

Ursula von der Leyen, co-author of a recent study by the German Institute of Economic Research, has been dismissive of the effectiveness of Germany’s voluntary agreement to increase the number of women on German company boards. She told Der Spiegel magazine:

“The agreement has been an abysmal failure. Almost nothing has changed for women.”

While the UK is unlikely to go as far as Norway or Spain in its demands on listed company boards, there would appear to be consensus building throughout Europe that a degree of push is needed to ensure at least a minimum ratio of women on executive boards.

Liz Bolshaw

In The Social Network, David Fincher’s film, few women players are more than sex toys for the male protagonists, with the possible exception of Erica Albright, Mark Zuckerberg’s on/off girlfriend. Whether or not the film presents an accurate picture of Facebook’s birth, gender does appear to be an issue for technology companies.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

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.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

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.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.