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Search and recruitment of C Level women – progress or prejudice?

Do you aspire to a seat in the boardroom or do you associate it with Alan Sugar and hot air? Your answer to this question may be driven as much by gender as by ambition.

In 2011 Lord Davies, former Trade Minister, set a goal that by the end of 2015, 25% of board members in FTSE 100 companies should be women. In March, government figures reported 23.5% achieved, but this has since been attributed to a rise in the number of non-executive female directors, rather than those involved in day to day company running and looking outside of FTSE 100 the minority status of female board members is clear. A year later The Guardian reported, “Efforts to appoint more women to the boards of Britain’s biggest companies have stalled, while men still exert a tight grip on key decision-making positions, new data has revealed.”

Does it really matter?

Board members are also known as the C-suite. These are the people who make the big decisions and hold most power within an organisation. Such executives are expected to lead, guide and build a company rather than provide pure functional or technical know-how and their salaries reflect these extra demands.

Those who argue for women board members emphasise how female traits spill into their management style, making it more neutral and less ego-driven –in other words, a nicer place to work. Recent McKinsey* research confirms that C-level women are loath to make decisions they don’t understand and are therefore more likely to ensure everyone in the boardroom takes part – leading with compassion and fairness.

Yet,C-level women getting everyone to input could simply prolong decision-making and we all know that bringing new perspectives can increase conflict, dissatisfaction and distrust. When Marissa Mayer, took the role of President and CEO at Yahoo, her leadership banned telecommuting and instituted a performance review system based on a bell curve, with those at the low end being fired. Perhaps not the compassion or fairness you’d expect.

A glass ceiling or a considered choice?

In countries where gender equality is highly valued, such as Scandinavia and the Netherlands, women directors are the norm rather than the exception. Norway now has a mandatory quota system of 40%, believing that at least three women on the board are optimum for changing company dynamics.

Flexible working and maternity provisions in such countries, also encourage women to aspire and remain at board level as part of their career plan. Sharing the family workload is an obvious way to remove traditional barriers and paves the way for future generations to follow in their mother’s footsteps.

Merit or metrics?

The jury may still be out, but there is no doubt that by merit or metrics, more and more women are finding a seat in the boardroom. The largest companies may still be male dominated, but school level engagement, start-up funding and government backing, mean that in the UK at least, there’s a real desire to increase female representation. Although going forward it would be hoped that individuals might continue to be judged and selected based on their abilities and company fit, rather than their gender.

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