Little Progress Made on Board Gender Equality

According to Russell Reynolds in a recent article in the FT, ‘Little Change For Board Gender Imbalance’, European organisations are making slow progress in adding women to their boards, ‘Women account for 11.7 per cent of board seats at the top 300 European companies, up from 8.5 per cent in 2008...But only seven women hold chief executive or executive chairwoman positions and one in five companies still has an all-male board.’

Perhaps not surprisingly, the nations that made the most progress (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Spain, UK), were the ones which imposed formal quotas or regulations. Such moves probably send shivers down the spine of those who fear government involvement in corporate governance, yet the results speak for themselves - clearly organisations do not have the willpower alone to make the changes necessary to install equality at the top.

And it is not just equality for equality's sake (although desperately important). Research has proven that diversity improves performance and when in reference to the board, a range of attitudes and backgrounds is essential to the successful guidance of the organisation. However, it is extremely hard to ‘prove’ the positive impact of diversity ‘programs’ or initiatives as there are many variables at stake, and simply hiring a diverse workforce cannot guarantee success. Instead, diversity initiatives, such as increasing the number of women on boards, must be carefully managed by senior executives and team buy-in to such initiatives is essential.

The research by Russell Reynolds (AESC member) also suggested that many organisations may have downgraded the priority of diversifying their workforce due to a risk-adverse culture. The effect of economic downturns upon diversity programs is a widely known problem - in fact a guest writer on the BlueSteps blog warned about this over a year ago - read about sustaining diversity during an economic downturn here.

When will organisations in Europe and around the world really begin to view diversity as essential to future success and really commit to making such programs work? And if they are unwilling to take the initial steps alone, implement quotas and force the management team to take a close look at how to manage diversity successfully – an essential quality of the new leader.

For more information about diversity in the workplace and a great study about the variables at stake and best practices see: Leveraging Diversity to Improve Performance

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